Your loved one likely chose you as executor of his or her estate because of the level of trust between the two of you. After all, it is a serious duty to carry out the final wishes of someone and to oversee the process that closes any open ends that person left behind. However, you may have realized immediately that along with the great honor of being estate executor comes a tremendous amount of responsibility and risk.

Unless you have previous experience handling the final affairs of someone who has recently died, you may not know where to begin. You may have to determine which are the priorities and how to avoid mistakes that could leave you liable. It is not as simple as reading the will and passing out the assets, and many executors find it is in their best interests to seek professional guidance for the task.

What is on the line?

Depending on the size and complexity of the estate, the number and disposition of the beneficiaries, and the condition of the estate plan, you may be looking at a probate that lasts for months or years. Probate is a legal process that follows a specific order. For example, you cannot disburse assets to the heirs until you have ensured all of the estate’s creditors have received their fair share. The creditor with the first claim is the government, especially if the estate qualifies for federal taxes.

Your responsibilities as estate executor include the following:

  • Completing the appropriate documentation, including the petition for probate, tax forms and portability election forms, if applicable
  • Managing any assets, including investments and real estate, to ensure they do not go missing or lose value before the beneficiaries obtain them
  • Paying creditors according to state hierarchy, which may include liquidating assets of the estate
  • Distributing the remaining assets according to the estate plan
  • Dealing with disputes and disagreements among heirs, including any accusations against you for breach of fiduciary duty

At any point during this process, a mistake or oversight can cost the estate money, and there is every possibility that the heirs will hold you financially responsible. To avoid this possibility, many executors turn to a professional to assist them with their duties. Enlisting the help of an attorney relieves you of the legal duties and, therefore, of the ramifications of any mistake you may make. With an attorney to guide you, administrating your loved one’s estate can be as stress-free as possible.