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What You Need to Know About Serving as Executor of Your Loved One’s Estate—and How Hiring a Lawyer Can Help

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What You Need to Know About Serving as Executor of Your Loved One’s Estate—and How Hiring a Lawyer Can Help

Most family members who serve as executors after the death of a loved one have little experience doing so, and the task can seem overwhelming. Before accepting the request, it is helpful to know what you are getting into.

What an Executor Does

In the broadest of terms, the executor handles the deceased person’s property and arranges for payment of estate debts and expenses. These duties can include:

  • Handling of the will.
  • Keeping track of the deceased person’s assets until they can be properly distributed. This can include making decisions on assets to keep and assets to sell.
  • Contacting the people named in the will who are supposed to inherit money or property. The executor is usually tasked with making sure the right things go to the right people.
  • Wrapping up the deceased’s affairs, which can include everything from canceling credit cards to notifying the bank of the death.
  • Setting up a bank account for the estate. The monies from the estate must be kept separate from the executor’s funds.
  • Making any necessary payments on behalf of the estate, such as utility bills and insurance premiums.
  • Settling debts with creditors, including final tax bills.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Being an executor can feel overwhelming, so it can be helpful to be aware of some of the more common errors executors make. These include:

Rushing through the process

In the desire to handle probate promptly, people may end up mishandling elements of the estate. Even if you are not held liable for the mistakes, it could delay the resolution of the estate. An example of this is that in Ohio, unsecured debt is forgiven if the estate is not opened for six months following the death. Handling probate too soon could mean the loss of thousands of dollars.

Not properly prioritizing bill payments

Under Ohio law, certain bills have priority over others. If there is a tax bill due, but if you’ve paid other, less important bills and there is nothing leftover for higher priority bills, you could be held personally liable.

Failing to take an inventory of property and keep it safe

All of your late loved one’s possessions must go through the probate process before they are distributed—even if the will specifies who gets what. The possessions no longer belong to the deceased; they belong to a legal entity, and you are responsible for keeping them safe.

Mismanaging real estate

If the deceased owned a home, it might be a simple matter of putting the property up for sale. But if there is another adult living in the home who may have been providing care for the deceased, it might be better to wait. Or the property could need repairs, so you will need to find out if money from the estate can be used to make them. You’ll need to consider keeping the house insured if it is to sit empty for a while. If the person who died owned property out of state, this can add even more complexity to the situation. Handling real estate after a death can be challenging.

How to Eliminate Stress as an Executor

It can be time-consuming and stressful to handle being the executor of a loved one’s estate, particularly if you are dealing with issues such as family conflict, complex assets, significant debt, or business ownership. It’s easy to overlook something and make mistakes. Hiring a probate attorney to take over can get rid of most of the stress and give you peace of mind.

If you are concerned about the expense of an attorney, the cost can come from estate funds rather than your own pocket. In addition, working with an attorney can actually save money by making sure business is handled properly from the start. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Contact Jarvis Law Office to get in touch with our estate planning and elder law team.

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