Being the executor of someone's estate can turn out to be a lengthy and incredibly complicated process. However, some people prefer to try to go it alone without the help of an attorney. They come out of the process a lot wiser (and perhaps with a lot more gray hairs).
Here are four tips from people who have been there so you do not have to make the same mistakes they did:
1. Hire an attorney
The most common refrain seems to be, "I wish I'd hired an attorney." Fees come out of the estate, not the executor's pocket, and an attorney streamlines the process, ensuring everything is done correctly. The attorney is a huge time-saver and stress-saver for the executor.
2. Know the assets and debts
It is not enough to know the deceased person's assets, you must also know her or his taxes and debts. In fact, it could be there are more debts than assets. In such a case, a judge would need to arrange creditors in order of priority. Some deceased people do leave easy-to-find and well-organized lists with this information, but alternatively, it could mean searching for elusive clues.
3. Wait to distribute the assets
One reason you must know about both debts and assets is so you do not give away assets before any debts have been satisfied. Relatives may not understand and could be frustrated at the fact they cannot yet get that necklace they were promised. However, it is critical to wait for asset distribution until probate is finished and creditors paid.
4. Know the difference between assets that go through probate and those that do not have to
To throw in another wrinkle, not all assets necessarily must go through probate. For example, trusts can lead to probate avoidance. Also, if two names are on a house title, the property typically does not have to go through probate. Similarly, if the deceased person has designated beneficiaries for retirement plans and life insurance, these proceeds are safe from probate.