Common Mistakes Made by Personal Representatives

If you have been named a personal representative (executor) by a family member or friend, you may be overwhelmed by the responsibility and unclear about the tasks at hand. This is a good time to seek the services of an accomplished estate planning attorney who will be able to clarify your duties and keep you from making errors for which you could be held personally liable.

If you are located in Southeastern Massachusetts or on Cape Cod, the skilled estate administration lawyers at Surprenant & Beneski, P.C. can provide you with invaluable guidance. Contact us today to make sure you start and stay on the right track. 

Can I really be held personally liable for failing in my job as a personal representative?

Yes. That’s why working closely with a knowledgeable, well-respected estate administration attorney is critical. Without a clear understanding of your duties and what constitutes in your role as a personal representative, you could potentially be sued by one or more of the beneficiaries for breaching your fiduciary duty, which means not working in the best interests of the estate and its heirs.

Our attorneys will help you to understand that, as a personal representative, you must:

  • Never use money from the estate (except for the money you 

are paid for this job) for personal use or profit

  • Be fully transparent in all actions you take in connection to the estate
  • Keep careful records and keep beneficiaries informed of your actions
  • Fill out all necessary forms
  • Pay all creditors in a timely manner
  • File and pay all necessary taxes 
  • Distribute inheritances to all beneficiaries

In other words, you must follow all of the wishes of the deceased as documented in the will. 

Mistakes to Avoid as a Personal Representative

Although some of the mistakes listed below may seem foolish and unlikely, you might  be surprised to find out how often one or another occurs:

  • Filing an outdated will assuming it is the only one

In many cases, there are several wills in existence. Make certain you have found the most recent one. Updates can be game-changers.

  • Forgetting to provide proper legal notices to all potential creditors

This mistake could get you into hot water since creditors who remain unpaid after the estate has been distributed may legally seek damages from you for their loss.

  • Rushing to distribute funds to beneficiaries

Make sure to follow the protocol your attorney lays out for you. First, before the estate is portioned out to those who stand to inherit, taxes and other bills must be paid. Making such a mistake can be extremely costly since once you distribute the money you won’t be able to get it back.

  • Depriving the spouse and minor/incapacitated adult children of their due

No matter what the will states, the spouse and disabled adult children may be entitled to receive an inheritance. Definitely check with your estate administration attorney about how to proceed in situations in which close family members have been disinherited.

  • Paying creditors prematurely

On the other hand, it is possible in small estates that some creditors will never be paid. Your lawyer will help you to understand cases in which the family of the deceased may take precedence when it comes to inheriting. If you pay creditors too early, shortchanging heirs, the family of the deceased may be able to hold you legally and financially liable.

  • Paying estate debts from separate funds belonging to the living spouse alone

Remember, some accounts or investments may not be community property if they were owned prior to the marriage, individually inherited, or received as court-ordered damages in a lawsuit.

  • Dipping into trust funds that are exempt to pay creditors 

Check with your attorney before you pay off creditors to make sure the money you use is not exempt from being used that way.

  • Failing to file the federal estate tax return

Even in situations in which the estate is too small to require payment of federal estate taxes, the form must be filed. If you fail to do this, you could be found negligent and held personally liable by the federal government.

Don’t Make Costly Mistakes. Contact Our Capable Estate Administration Attorneys Now.