Serving As Executor -- Not for Everyone

June 20, 2013

Most New Yorkers know that in the event of a passing there are "paperwork" details that must be worked out. Property must be divided up, accounts must be closed, and other errands must be completed. Time and again, however, families grossly underestimate the complexity and scope of these duties; many end up spending months and months mired in chaos while trying to handle everything.

That is why it is critical to think carefully before making choices about the "executor" of an estate (or agreeing act as executor yourself).

A recent Buffalo News article made this same point, reminding readers that serving as an executor is not something to take lightly. Serving in this role is far different than simply being trustworthy, and it requires much more time and understanding than simply having been a close friend or relative while one was alive.

For one thing, the total tasks thrown onto the executor are substantial. All assets must be identified and properly managed until the estate is settled. Debts must be identified and paid per proper legal procedure. Taxes must also be filed and paid. Only then can the remaining assets be dispersed according to the deceased wishes (or per intestate rules)

Even the seemingly simple tasks can provide troublesome. Do you know exactly what property the person owns? What accounts they have? Everything they are subscribed to on a monthly basis? Whether they own any stocks, bonds, or retirement accounts? Credit card debt? Individual store accounts? Just identifying the scope of these and many more issues can be challenging, let alone actually dealing with them.

In addition, executors must understand that they have legal hurdles to traverse. Executors are "fiduciaries," meaning they are obligated to abide by high standards--their conduct can be scrutinized by all observers. When mistakes are made, the executor can sometimes be held responsible for the errors. It is not at all uncommon for a family friend to face a gauntlet of criticism (and legal challenges) by relatives while acting as an executor.

Considering the heavy burden placed on those handling these affairs, it is no wonder that most families turn to professionals, like an estate planning lawyer, to handle the duties. In this way, one can be assured that things will be handled properly and that feuding among friends and family may be minimized.

For help with these matters in New York City, Albany, White Plains, Fishkill, or any community in the state, consider contacting the experienced attorneys at our firm for more support.