While it is an honor to be named as a trusted decision maker, also known as an executor or personal representative, in a person’s will, it can often be a sobering and daunting responsibility. Being an executor requires a high level of organization, foresight, and attention to detail to meet responsibilities and ensure that all beneficiaries receive the accounts and property to which they are entitled. If you are an executor who is feeling overwhelmed, here are some tips to lighten the load.
1. Get help from an experienced attorney.
The caveat to being an executor is that once you accept the responsibility, you also accept the liability if something goes wrong. To protect yourself and make sure you are crossing all the “t’s” and dotting all the “i’s,” hire an experienced estate planning attorney now; an attorney whose sole focus is on estate administration and estate planning. Having a legal professional in your corner not only helps you avoid pitfalls and blind spots, but it will also give you greater peace of mind during the process. In fact, in some states it is a requirement that an executor be represented by competent legal counsel, so it is always a good idea to discuss your responsibilities with an attorney before you take action. It is also important to note that the expense of hiring an attorney does not have to be borne by you. As an executor, you are allowed to hire professionals to assist you in carrying out your responsibilities, and they can be paid from the deceased person’s money. This includes professionals such as financial advisers and certified public accountants.
2. Get organized.
One of the biggest reasons that you may feel overwhelmed as an executor is that the details can come at you from all directions. Proper organization helps you conquer this problem and regain control. We will advise you of what to do and when. You will need to gather several pieces of important paperwork to get started. It is a good idea to create a file or binder so you can keep track of the original estate planning documents, death certificates, bills, financial statements, insurance policies, and contact information of beneficiaries. Bringing all of this information to your first meeting will be a solid start. As you continue with the administration process, you may be required to open or manage the deceased person’s bank accounts. It is important that you keep records of all transactions that occur because you will be required to account for how money has been spent. It is also important that you keep all of the deceased person’s finances separate from your own. Do not deposit money into your personal account.
3. Establish lines of communication.
As an executor, you are the liaison between multiple parties involved in the probate process: the courts, the creditors, the Internal Revenue Service, the beneficiaries, and the heirs. Create and maintain an up-to-date list of everyone’s contact information. Also, retain records such as copies of correspondence or notes about phone calls you make as executor. Open and honest communication helps keep the process flowing smoothly and reduces the risk of disputes. It is worth repeating because it is so important: keep records of all communications, so you can always recall what was said to whom.
We’re Here to Help
If you have been appointed as an executor and are feeling overwhelmed, our Madison estate planning and probate attorneys can provide skilled counsel and advice to help you through the process. We can also help you draft your own estate plan so your family can avoid the stress of probate. You can complete this contact form on our website or call us today at (608) 447-0006, to get started.