Administering an estate? If you've never been an executor before, it can seem like an overwhelming task with many tasks to complete. It is important to know what you are getting yourself into and the best practices to properly administer an estate so that no stone is left unturned.
1. Understand your role as the executor.
As an executor, it is important to understand the legal and financial burden you accept when you take on the responsibility of administering the estate. Accepting the role is a big first step as you assume responsibility.
Read some of the resources online (there are lots of government resources available and helpful articles on law firm blogs). Talk to someone who's been through the process before.
2.Debt and taxes, first, then beneficiaries.
Debt is a good place to start when evaluating the estate. Assessing what the deceased owes and who they owe it to. Ensuring that any outstanding debts are paid and taxes are dealt with before distributing assets to beneficiaries helps to ensure there are funds available to even do so.
In addition to paying the creditors you know about, it's important to publish a public notice to creditors to ensure you haven't missed any. Otherwise, you as the executor could be on the hook personally for outstanding debts of the deceased.
3. Check for a will.
How do you know if a deceased died intestate (without a will) or if you simply haven't found it? The difference can have profound implications for how the estate is administered.
Trying to locate the deceased's will shows that you have done your due diligence as an executor. Even if you don't find anything, having proof that you made a good faith effort to find a will is important for your records to protect yourself from potential liability down the road.
4. Maintain good records.
When administering an estate, keeping good records and staying organized are paramount. As an executor you may be liable if something goes wrong (or is not done properly), therefore, it is important that your records are reliable and kept in order. Keep your proof of due diligence.
5. Consult a lawyer.
Whether it's about how complicated the estate is, the timeline, or your legal obligations, there's no substitute for the advice of a lawyer. Acting as an executor is a significant legal responsibility and retaining a lawyer is the best single step you can take to ensure that everything is done by the book.
These tips are a quick overview of what to keep in mind as an executor. The best practice as an executor is to consult a lawyer. They will have the best tips and guidelines for you to follow as they know the estate matters of the deceased best, as well as what is most feasible in your situation.