• Bridges Washington

Are you named as an executor for a friend or family member?

Updated: Dec 20, 2019

Many professionals offer services related to the probate of estates. If someone has named you as executor (trix) of their estate you are ultimately responsible for executing the associated duties. You can defer your executor duties to a professional; however, as with any professional service, it is subject to quality. I would recommend that you familiarize yourself with the jurisdiction requirements of the estate you will be serving.

Probate is a well-defined process regardless of where you live. It does vary some based on the jurisdiction. However, it is still just a process, death, after all, happens every day. Regardless of the location, they all have waiting periods built into the process already. These waiting periods are generally associated with allowing creditors time to discover the death and file a claim against the estate. Many states do provide expedited processes in the case of small estates that would enable the process to move more quickly. In situations where the estate does not qualify, or the jurisdiction does not have such a provision, the process can take years. With the hurry up and wait already built into the process, why would you subject yourself to further delays that are out of your control?

It is possible that the jurisdiction governing the estate has a guide relating to probate. This guide would list the required forms and the associated deadlines for filing them. If you check the county clerk's office of the county of residence of the person who has named you executor they can likely point you in the right direction. My experience with people in those offices has been quite positive. If you think about it, they don't have an ulterior motive. The legal firms that you will find while searching the web are likely to give you just enough information to entice you to call.

If you do a little research regarding probate activity, you may find examples of poor service regarding paid professionals. Many county clerk offices have taken public records digital and even provide web access. First, you should look at the death index, provided they have it available online, for the name of someone who died about a year ago. Next, search for listings for that name looking for fiduciary records with that name. At this point you don't care about the original name in the search, you were looking for a relevant fiduciary record. If you read through the list of open estates, you are likely to find all manner of stories about the reasons for delays in closing estates. Executors lacking follow-through is one, real estate transactions are another, failings of attorneys are yet another of the descriptions that you will find causing delays.

It is possible that some of these delays are necessary, especially when it concerns certain types of trusts established upon death. Real estate transactions are also a source of significant delays during probate. Many of them are entirely unnecessary and often are a result of poor time management of the parties involved. If you had a close personal connection to the person who gave you this responsibility, these avoidable delays merely add to the stress of the situation.

Ultimately, getting educated now, regardless of your age, will serve you well, not only with handling your responsibilities as an agent for a loved one but also making you aware of your own shortcomings regarding end-of-life contingencies.

Get more details on these issues and more in Death and Taxes: Fallout from the Baby Boom.

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