It’s a privilege to serve as executor of an estate. For sure, it’s no small matter to carry out someone’s final wishes. The responsibility is huge. The last thing you want is to do anything less than a stellar job.
Here’s how to honor your loved one’s legacy.
RECOGNIZE YOUR ROLE
The executor of an estate must understand that he/she is a fiduciary.
“This means that they have a duty to act in good faith and trust for the benefit of the beneficiaries of the estate,” says Gary Sastow, partner at the law firm of Brown, Gaujean, Kraus & Sastow, in White Plains. “The executor must also understand that they are now stepping into the shoes of the deceased person to carry out their wishes with respect to the deceased person’s assets that make up the estate.”
Know what to expect.
“It is a challenging and sometimes thankless job,” says Jeffrey Greener, an attorney specializing in estate planning with Rivkin Radler LLP in Uniondale.
GET YOUR HANDS DIRTY
Come with your A-game. There will be plenty to do and no room for mistakes.
“The main responsibility of an estate executor is to take charge,” says Mark Snyder, a financial advisor in Medford. “Families are often in disarray at this stressful time and conflicts may be emerging. It is imperative to get a hold of the will and see that the deceased’s wishes are honored above all else.”
Your duties can include things like hiring an experienced estate attorney to assist in performing executorial duties and obtaining a formal court appointment; identifying, gathering and collecting assets; identifying debts of the decedent; and communicating with heirs, among other tasks, points out attorney Candice Grossbach with the law firm of Martin Grossbach in Rye Brook.
In addition, the executor will go through the process of probating the estate before the Surrogate’s Court, marshaling the assets of the estate, distributing the assets in accordance with the deceased person’s last will and testament, accounting for all the assets, investing the estate’s money, if applicable, and filing the necessary tax returns and reports to the Surrogate’s Court.
The duties of an executor or administrator may be time-consuming and complicated.
“Before accepting the position, first determine if you have the time to handle a process that could take upwards of a year for more complex estates,” says Greener. “While no specific educational training or skills are required, it does help to be well organized. It also helps to have the right temperament, since the estate administration process can be long and sometimes frustrating, especially when there are numerous individuals involved, each with his or her own expectations.”
If it sounds like a lot of work, it is. Know that the estate will pay you for your services. Keep a record of the hours you spend.
Don’t go solo. Build a team to ensure you do the best job possible. You’ll likely need an estate attorney, an accountant, financial advisor and, depending on the estate, an appraiser.
Make no assumptions that everyone is on the same page and that the process will be without some confrontation or risk free.
“Executors are often the only thing standing between heirs and their inheritance, so executors often feel heirs have put them under a microscope,” says Greener. “You can also be held personally responsible for losses or for failing to timely pay taxes or claims before distributing any inheritances.”
Be mindful about everything.
“Don’t distribute too much too soon and leave the estate financially depleted,” says Gary Garland, a certified elder law attorney with the Garland Law Office in New York City. “For example, distributing all the cash and stocks, and then there are no liquid funds available to fix up the house for sale.”
You also don’t want to distribute assets without appropriate paperwork.
“If you give $50,000 to the nephew without appropriate paperwork, he can still sue the estate if he feels aggrieved,” Garland adds.
Serving as an executor won’t be easy, but what a way to show your love.