The stress of the loss of a loved one is often the most difficult time of a person’s life. Family members want to honor the wishes of their loved one and make sure the estate was handled right. But it is easy to make mistakes while under the stress of a loss.
In the estate administration process, mistakes in handling of the estate can lead to surcharge actions against the estate executor or administrator. Having time and money tied up in a court dispute does not benefit the estate representative or the beneficiaries. What should an executor do to avoid disputes with beneficiaries and creditors?
Here are five best practices we follow to help avoid pitfalls in estate administration.
1. Secure the original will as soon as possible. If the original is lost, a legal petition is necessary to seek admission of the copy. The petition is a request the court to admit a copy of the Will into probate as if it were the original. But admission of a copy is not guaranteed, especially if the deceased’s heirs challenge the copy’s admission. In Pennsylvania, if the original is lost, there is a rebuttable presumption that the deceased destroyed and revoked the Will.
2. The executor should obtain a signed settlement agreement with all beneficiaries. This is a binding agreement between the executor and all the beneficiaries agreeing to how the estate was handled. The agreement protects the executor from potential future claims by the beneficiaries and gives the executor indemnification rights should a creditor seek payment after distribution.
3. Publish the estate. Publication is accomplished by placing two ads in a legal and a general circulation newspaper. Clients sometimes ask us why the formality of a newspaper ad is necessary in 2022. The reason is that the law protects the executor when an estate is published, even if the law is antiquated.
4. Make sure each person receiving property as an advancement signs a receipt. It is natural for beneficiaries to want to take possession of the deceased’s property, especially those items with sentimental value. But distributing personal property affects both the inheritance taxes and the rights of other beneficiaries of the estate. An estate representative can be held responsible for losing track of who received specific items of property.
5. Executors should at least consider taking a commission. Serving as an executor can be a time-consuming job. If the executor views the job as a thankless hassle, it would be better to accept compensation than to take disastrous shortcuts.
As a probate law firm for estate executors, we help settle estates efficiently and reduce stress. If you know someone faced with a probate process or roadblocks to an estate property sale, please have them contact us for a free evaluation at:
Phone: (215) 918-4242
If you are not quite ready for a consultation, download our probate handbook HERE. We’ll send you helpful probate guides and resources so you know how to handle the estate.