Stubbing Your Toe: Seven Common Mistakes Made by Estate Executors

Houston Area Attorneys Helping Estate Executors with the Legal Process

It’s one of the paradoxes of estate administration: Where the deceased has named an individual to be executor of his or her estate, in virtually every case, the person who takes on such important duties has no experience whatsoever. The executor has never taken “Estate Administration 101;” the course doesn’t exist. And yet, the executor is tasked to maneuver through a literal legal maze, to make decisions that will have long-range ramifications, and to handle the most intricate and important details of the deceased’s affairs.

When an aged and crusty Texas lawyer was asked by a newly qualified executor if the attorney had any advice, the sage senior counselor at law said, “Try not to stub your toe.” What he meant was that care should be taken in the administrative process; snap decisions should be avoided. Common sense is the usual rule. If the elderly attorney were writing this blog article, he’d likely say, “Avoid these seven common mistakes:”

Mistake 1: Failure to Comply With Legal Notice and Other Requirements

Texas probate law generally requires the executor to notify each beneficiary named in the will of that favored status. In some instances, you will need/want to contact heirs who are not named as beneficiaries. Additionally, the executor must publish a notice to creditors and must send a special notice to any creditor whose claim is secured by a deed of trust or mortgage. Depending upon the circumstances, an inventory or other accounting must also be prepared and filed within 90 days. Failure to comply with these notice and filing requirements can have serious consequences.

Mistake 2: Acting Like a Day-Trader

Particularly if the estate assets include stocks and bonds held in various investment accounts, the executor may be tempted to make investment decisions in an attempt to increase the value of the estate. Bear in mind that, generally, an executor has an obligation to conserve, but not to increase, the value of the assets during estate settlement. Don’t be a day-trader.

Mistake 3: Failure to Obtain or Maintain Insurance

As just noted, the executor has a duty to conserve. One way to violate that duty is to fail to insure property that is subject to risk of destruction. Recognize, for example, that many residential homeowner policies require the residence to be occupied. If there is no occupant, coverage can lapse. Contact an attorney or a reputable insurance agent to discuss this issue.

Mistake 4: Failure to File Returns in a Timely Manner

While tax returns are not always required for a decedent’s estate, if one is required and you fail to file it, heavy penalties can be assessed.

Mistake 5: Failure to Communicate with Heirs

This is one that causes the most ill will and yet one that can be easily avoided. An executor may be busy handling details, but if that work isn’t communicated to interested parties, it can all be for naught. With the ease of email communication these days, there is no excuse for failing to keep beneficiaries informed.

Mistake 6: Making Distributions to Beneficiaries Before Accounting for Liabilities

If the deceased has substantial debts, as well as assets, it will generally be foolish to distribute significant levels of assets without first ascertaining the true nature of the charges against the estate. Additionally, if valuations of any assets are not easily determined, you should not distribute funds until the values have been nailed down.

Mistake 7: Losing Tangible Assets

Just as some executors fail to secure appropriate insurance on estate property, others fail to safeguard it appropriately. Mother’s cocktail ring has sentimental value. In the confusion of taking control of the assets, don’t sell it. More particularly, don’t lose it.

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Experienced Attorneys Can Help You Avoid Mistakes

In many cases, the executor will find that the most prudent initial step in the estate administration process is to retain the services of a skilled, experience attorney. The attorneys at Romano & Sumner have more than 20 years of combined experience providing expert legal assistance to clients in estate administration, estate planning, and other related issues. At Romano & Sumner, we pride ourselves not only upon our professionalism, but also on our client service. We return phone calls within one business day. We keep clients informed. We complete the work within the allotted time frame. Call us at 281-242-0995 or complete our online contact form.

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    Romano & Sumner, PLLC

    Romano & Sumner, PLLC