If you’re the executor of someone’s estate, you need to remember one key rule: Probate is a legal process. You’re bound to follow certain rules. If you don’t, you can end up in litigation that opens you up to personal liability.
Here are the biggest mistakes you can make as someone’s executor:
- Trying to handle the estate all on your own. There’s a lengthy list of things that need to be managed following someone’s death. Executors for all but the simplest of estates usually need to get experts involved, like an attorney or a financial adviser — and that’s just for starters. Professional guidance can also prevent allegations that you’re mismanaging the estate’s funds.
- Hiring the wrong attorney. If the estate is simple, you may be comfortable hiring an attorney with general experience in estates — but complex estates can have a lot of tricky issues that need to be carefully addressed. Pick an attorney with the depth and breadth of experience to handle the job.
- Letting your biases show. Maybe one of the heirs is just nicer or easier to work with than the others. Maybe you have long had a favorite among them. Either way, it’s your job to play fair, so don’t treat that heir any differently than you do the others.
- Ignoring the heirs. It’s tempting to send calls to voicemail and ignore demanding emails when you’re already feeling the pressure, but putting off the estate’s heirs for another day can lead to unnecessary conflict — and a lot of resentment. That can eventually culminate in charges that you’re failing to do your job.
- Self-dealing. You may be entitled to take a fee for your services (if the estate allows it), but don’t indulge your whims with the estate’s property or money. That’s automatically going to raise red flags and the heirs will rightfully be angry.
Even if you do everything right, it’s possible that you’ll still end up in litigation over your performance as an executor. If that happens, make sure that you get some experienced legal advice about the situation as soon as possible.