An effective estate plan can go a long way to protecting your assets and ensuring they go to the appropriate beneficiaries in accordance with your wishes. However, like many other plans, even the best estate plan is often only as good as the person implementing it.
While the probate court oversees the process generally, your will's executor will be the one taking action on the ground. Whether the distribution goes smoothly or winds up in a snarl of litigation can have a great deal to do with the way the executor goes about performing his or her administrative duties.
Beginning the process
The executor files to obtain formal Letters Testamentary from the probate court in order to start the process. Then he or she must take stock of the estate's assets; this includes getting an accurate valuation. While this is simple for some estates, some types of assets, such as real estate or businesses, can present difficulties.
Managing the estate
The executor also maintains the estate's assets until distribution. This can mean maintaining rental properties, collecting income, keeping up insurance plans and performing any other actions necessary to keep the assets in proper condition. If complex assets will form part of your estate, you may need to appoint an executor who has the knowledge and experience to handle them correctly.
Additional duties include settling the estate's obligations. The executor publishes a notice to creditors and pays off taxes. The executor also serves as the estate's representative in any legal actions or disputes with creditors or beneficiaries.
There is also a large amount of paperwork involved. The executor must gather and submit applicable legal documentation such as death certificates and title deeds. He or she must record every transaction relating to estate assets and present this record to the court.
When selecting your executor, keep in mind that someone who has to travel far in order to fulfill these duties may find them unduly burdensome. You should also consider the person's general state of health and other responsibilities. As a safeguard, you may appoint an alternate executor in case your first choice cannot take on these responsibilities when the time comes.