Whether you're an heir to a will or have been tasked with the responsibility for executing it, the administration of an estate can be a tricky job. Executors have many responsibilities, and they must walk a fine line between following rules and making judgment calls.
While it may seem like the executor has ultimate authority over the execution of the estate, they actually must follow a number of guides. What are these? Here are a few of the most important and how they affect everyone.
1. The Deceased's Wishes. First and foremost, the executor must try to follow the wishes of the deceased person whose estate they are in charge of. These wishes include anything specifically spelled out in the will or other estate documents. Failure to abide by specific elements of the will is one of the most common reasons for heirs to contest it.
2. Probate Court. Executors are responsible to the probate court for how they handle their job. The court will expect to receive a full and transparent accounting of all transactions, the way the estate is divided, and how distributions are made. Certain large transactions, such as selling or buying property, often must be preapproved by the court as well.
3. The Interests of Heirs. Because the estate is held in trust for the eventual heirs, an executor is ultimately working for them. This means they must attempt to do what is in the best interests of all the heirs. This can be difficult if there are multiple heirs with different opinions or agendas. An executor often consults independent experts to help resolve conflicts in objective ways.
4. Best Interests of the Estate. As an executor, the administrator doesn't just hold estate assets until distribution. They may also need to use them in ways that benefit the estate. An executor might decide how to invest estate funds, fix up a piece of real estate to get a better price or arrange the best possible sale for assets.
5. Their Best Efforts. Many executors are amateurs doing a job for the first time. They often consult professionals, but the executor must ultimately make many decisions using their best judgment. As long as that executor seeks help when decisions are outside their purview and acts in good faith for the estate, they generally are doing their job in accord with the law.
Balancing all these guides when administrating an estate is challenging. One of the best resources to help you or the executor of an estate you have a stake in is an estate administration attorney in your state. With their expertise, any executor can successfully discharge their duty to all these forces.