So, You Are An Executor: What Now?
For many, it’s the worst news at the worst time. Being granted the responsibility of seeing a loved one's estate through from start to finish is a difficult, trying experience. Most people don’t know what they are supposed to do, and it’s understandable! The duties of a Trustee or an Executor aren’t often spoken about in typical conversation, but many people will need to be made aware of them at one point or another. While we can’t tell you everything you’ll need to do depending on the individual circumstances, here’s a quick rundown of how to get started.
Upon Death: Take a breath. At the start of all of this, be sure to find time to grieve however you need to. While handling an estate is very important, it is secondary to ensuring that you and your loved ones are managing during a difficult time.
Pressure: Don’t rush in because someone else is forcing you to! While you should attend to these duties as a priority, you should be in a steady place before you start working.
Financials: Before you speak to anyone about starting this process, find out as much information as possible about the departed. Where did they bank? Was their home paid off? Did they have a life insurance policy? Did they have any retirement accounts? Write down everything you can, gather bank statements, bills, titles, and deeds.
Estate Planning: Most importantly, find out if they had their estate planning taken care of. This single question will likely determine if this is going to be a quick and easy process, or if you are set up for months or even years of expensive probate court proceedings. In short, if they have a property funded trust, this should likely be a simple process. If their plan was built around a Last Will and Testament only, or even nothing at all, you may be gearing up for the long haul.
Bills and Claims: Outside of those needed to maintain a home, don’t pay any bills until you speak with a legal professional. Many financial institutions will try to get you to assume debt you are not responsible for. If you do end up paying any bills, keep track of the amount paid and what for; you may be able to be reimbursed from the estate.
Determine Your Path: As with most things in life, you DO have a choice. If you are named as a Trustee of a trust or an Executor of a Will, you do have the option to turn it down. This can be for any reason, be it that you are in a deep state of grief, or simply feel that you cannot attend to the duties. You also need to decide if you will proceed with an attorney, or on your own. While it is possible to tend to an estate by yourself, it is far from recommended. If it is at all possible, you should seek out a trusted attorney to assist you and your loved ones with taking care of an estate; processes like Probate can be incredibly complex.
Your Duties: It’s easy to put off beginning the process for another day, but leaving it for months and months can put you and your loved ones in a bind down the road. When you are ready to move forward, make the call. If you are working with an attorney or legal team, they will likely want to get as much information about the departed as possible. You will also have to sign a document stating that you are taking on your stated role (Trustee or Executor). If you are rejecting your role as a Trustee or Executor, you’ll need to alert your legal representative of that fact so other arrangements can be made.
Don’t Assume Anything: The legal process of sorting out an estate can be incredibly complicated, and if you are working with an attorney, they are expecting you to ask questions!
The best advice that we can give is, “Don’t Guess.” When you make a guess regarding anything in the legal world, especially when it comes to the court system, you put yourself and your loved ones at risk. When in doubt, always seek out a trusted legal advisor to help guide your way through this trying process; they can take a large portion of the work off your plate. If you have any questions, or need that adviser in Northwest Ohio, give us a call at 419-352-7522, or send us an email to help keep your family out of the courtroom today.