Though it can feel like an honor initially, it’s essential to understand that serving as the executor to a person’s estate is a big undertaking. As a Personal Representative, you’ll have a legal responsibility to distribute property according to the deceased’s instructions and ensure you don’t leave any loose ends on top of coping with your recent loss.
Should anything go wrong with the estate administration, the Personal Representative could wind up personally liable for the mistakes or conflicts that arise. According to Forbes, here are three of the biggest mistakes you can make when acting as the executor or Personal Representative to a loved one’s estate and what you can do to avoid them:
1. Handling everything on your own
Following the death of a loved one, it can feel like your to-do list as a Personal Representative is endless. If you don’t have the knowledge or skills to administer the estate independently, even a relatively small estate can be intimidating. You have to hire the appropriate professionals to ensure you do everything correctly and in accordance with the probate process.
Enlisting an attorney and financial advisor’s support can help you navigate the probate process and prioritize what you need to accomplish. The aid of professionals can also head off any accusations that you are mishandling your duties.
2. Playing favorites with heirs
While there will probably be some beneficiaries that are easier to work with than others, you must remember that you have a legal obligation to all of them. Favoring certain heirs or ignoring the heirs you don’t want to deal with will likely put you in breach of fiduciary duty. Remember, as Personal Representative, it’s your job to act in the best interest of all beneficiaries and avoid causing conflicts.
3. Acting in self-interest
An executor has a great deal of power in their position. While it may be tempting to sell the deceased’s property to yourself below market value, this will raise some red flags in probate court. The deceased’s beneficiaries likely won’t be happy if they think you are taking advantage of your power, either.
Serving in any fiduciary role can come with many unforeseen pitfalls, and sometimes even innocent errors can land you in hot water legally. By avoiding these common errors, you can ensure you fulfill your role successfully.
4. Specific names for various “fiduciary” roles
- Last Will and Testament: “Personal Representative”
- Power of Attorney: “Attorney-in-fact” or “Agent”
- Trust: “Trustee”