5 Common Mistakes to Avoid as an Executor

Patricia TichenorLegal

If you’ve been appointed as the executor of a loved one’s estate, you’re responsible for settling the decedent’s affairs and carrying out their wishes as described in their Will. There are many legal tasks you’ll need to stay on top of throughout this process, and first-time executors are often overwhelmed.

Given the situation and the multitude of responsibilities that require your attention, it’s easy to make a few missteps as you’re carrying out your executor duties. Here are five common mistakes to avoid as an estate executor and how to avoid them.

1. Not paying attention to state probate requirements

Being the executor of someone’s estate is a legal responsibility. For this reason, some people choose to have an attorney serve as their executor. However, this role is often given to a close family member or friend, who may or may not have any prior legal experience.

This makes the role of executor a challenging one, as you’ll need to make sure that everything you do is in accordance with state law. This includes knowing where to file and whether you, in fact, need to file the Will with the probate court, payment of any debts, and distribution of assets.

One important thing to keep in mind is that probate laws vary from state to state, and Virginia has very specific requirements and unique probate forms in each county. If you are handling a Virginia probate matter from out-of-state, or if your loved one owned assets outside Virginia, you may have some extra steps you’ll need to take.

By the same token, some Virginia-based assets may not even need to go through probate at all, so it’s wise to consult a local estate planning expert before you begin filing paperwork.

2. Not keeping beneficiaries up-to-date

As an executor, one of your most important tasks is to update all the beneficiaries of the estate. This means you must maintain a constant line of communication throughout the administration process by updating them about the assets they’ll be inheriting, the expected timeline, and any important information or documentation you’ll need from them to receive their inheritance. 

A lack of communication often leads to confusion and frustration among beneficiaries over how the assets are being handled and when they can expect to receive them. This can all be avoided by keeping open lines of communication between yourself and the decedent’s heirs.

3. Being disorganized

There are many responsibilities an executor must oversee, especially if the decedent had a large number of assets and/or liabilities. Executors may have to pay off existing debts, sell property, and make sure all the proper paperwork has been filed with the appropriate Courts and parties.

Given the number of tasks and the weight of responsibilities an executor has, it can be difficult to stay on top of everything at once. It’s important to establish a system for staying organized so you don’t lose track of any documents or duties For instance, you may want to keep track of all your tasks in a spreadsheet or project management tool so you can track your progress and easily see any outstanding items to address.

4. Trying to move too quickly

Estate executors may think they can wrap up the probate and administration process immediately after their loved one’s funeral so everyone can move forward. Unfortunately, many of these tasks can’t be rushed: It often takes months (sometimes even a full year or more) to fully administer an estate and settle all of the decedent’s affairs properly. If you rush the process, you may miss some key details and steps and face legal liability, which only further complicates the process.

5. Trying to do it alone

Administering a loved one’s estate is an extensive and complicated process, and it’s made even more difficult by the emotional grief you are likely enduring. During this difficult time, it’s wise for an executor to seek the help of an experienced estate planning professional.

At My Legal Case Coach, we offer an easy-to-use legal case form packet that walk you through each step of handling a DIY probate matter in Virginia. Our packets also come with a free one-hour virtual coaching session with a licensed Virginia attorney, who can review forms and answer any legal questions you may have. Additional coaching time is available to purchase in prepaid blocks should you need additional guidance.

Contact us today for a free 15-minute consultation on how we can help you and your loved ones through the probate process.