If you recently discovered that a loved one named you his or her personal representative, you may be dealing with some conflicting emotions. On one hand, it is an honor to know that a parent, spouse, or other close relative trusted you enough to name you as their executor under a will. However, at the same time, you may be feeling a little overwhelmed and worried about what it actually means.
At Five Points Law Group, we work closely with personal representatives, administrators, executors, trustees, and other fiduciaries to make sure that fiduciary obligations are met and estates are properly administered from start to finish. Here are a few quick tips you need to keep in mind about your obligations as a representative for an estate.
Action is Voluntary
The first thing to remember is that you are in no way forced to act. Just because someone named you as their representative or executor does not mean you have to do the job. You always have the right to decline the job. But beware: If you decline, the next individual named in the will is going to be in a position to make important and critical decisions on behalf of the estate. If you do not like how that person handles things, you might not have the option of changing your mind later.
Once you do accept the job and decide to act, you are bound by a set of fiduciary obligations. In other words, you must treat the estate’s property as separate and apart from your own. You can not appropriate or use the estate’s property for your own purposes. Examples of inappropriate breaches of fiduciary duties include:
- Commingling your money with the decedent’s money
- Using the decedent’s cars, boats, or other vehicles for your own purposes
- Moving into the decedent’s house without paying a reasonable rent
Next, under Title 43 of the Alabama Code, you may be required to provide a regular accounting of the estate’s assets and liabilities. This means letting other relatives and heirs know exactly what is available, what debts may apply, and how the funds are being distributed. The more complex the estate, the more difficult this can be.
Opening the Estate and Administering it Properly
You do not want to get into legal trouble for accidentally misappropriating estate funds. If the estate has enough value to require probate, you will need to file the original will with the local court and petition to open an estate. This will give you the legal authority to:
- Collect assets
- Deal with creditors
- Resolve and pay debts and claims
- Defend the estate against lawsuits
- Prosecute lawsuits on behalf of the estate
- Distribute remaining funds to heirs and legatees based on the decedent’s wishes
- File final tax returns
- Sell or auction property
- Transfer real estate ownership
- Close the estate
How a Birmingham Probate Lawyer can Help
As you can probably imagine, there are a lot of ways a probate matter can get complicated quickly. In many cases, the surviving heirs all agree and get along. If so, it will go a long way to easing the process. But in other cases, family members fight bitterly over assets and heirlooms.
If you need help administering an estate in the Birmingham area, give Five Points Law Group a call today.