If you agreed to serve as the executor of the estate of a loved one, you may have gotten an overview of your responsibilities. Now that your loved one has passed away, you may find yourself intimidated by those responsibilities.
The last thing you want to do is make a mistake that could end up costing the heirs and beneficiaries — and you. In some cases, you could end up personally liable for your errors. Below are some of the mistakes that could come back to haunt you long after the administration of the estate is complete.
Failing to gather and protect all assets
Until you address all matters required under Maryland law, no one can take any of the decedent’s assets. As executor, one of your first responsibilities is to gather and protect all of the assets belonging to your loved one. The property makes up the estate, and it is your job to secure it until the time comes to distribute its remaining assets.
You may need to go so far as to change the locks on your loved one’s home and anywhere else he or she kept property at the time of death. The last thing you want is heirs and beneficiaries helping themselves to assets before you can have them appraised and before you are ready to distribute them.
Failing to understand your fiduciary duties
Your loved one and the court placed you in a position of trust. It isn’t enough for you to be honest and fair; you will have to prove it as well. If you fail to keep detailed records of everything you do, it could come back to haunt you later. No one should have the chance to question what you did during the administration of the estate. If they do, you should have the records to back up your actions.
You will also need to report your actions to the court and account for every penny, every piece of property and more. Otherwise, you could end up with the court forcing you to take personal financial responsibility for something.
Failing to properly handle real estate
One of the largest assets most people own is real estate. When an individual dies, you may receive an offer to purchase the property. Don’t make the mistake of accepting that offer in an attempt to quickly dispose of the property. First, the court will require you to appraise that property before doing anything with it. Second, you have a duty to make sure that, if you sell the real estate, you do so for “fair market value,” which that first purchase offer may not represent.
Individuals and companies often take advantage of grieving family members in order to purchase real estate at a low price. As the executor of the estate, you cannot allow your grief to interfere with your fiduciary duty to the estate, the heirs and the beneficiaries.
Failing to accept help when needed
You have a lot on your plate as an executor, but you don’t need to handle it all alone. You could call on the experience and knowledge of a probate attorney to help you avoid these and other costly mistakes.