How to prevent estate mismanagement, disputes with beneficiaries, and other issues executors sometimes face.
Serving as the executor of an estate can be a large undertaking, even if you’re working from a simple, straightforward end-of-life documentation. As a designated executor, you must balance probate court appearances, communication with beneficiaries, property and business concerns, asset distribution, and more—all while processing your own grief. With so many different responsibilities to juggle, many first-time executors make mistakes in how they handle their obligations.
Mistakes during probate can have a snowball effect, hampering or tangling up the process, which may lead to mismanagement, contention with family members and beneficiaries of the deceased, and even forcible removal from your executor position. But you can avoid mistakes and ensure a smooth trip through probate by understanding the most common problem areas for executors and how to address them.
Mistake One: Not Understanding the Scope
Many first-time executors feel a sense of obligation to the deceased and take on all the responsibilities without fully understanding everything involved. Taking on more than you can handle can result in burnout, communication issues, disorganization, and other serious problems that disrupt the probate process.
Before making the commitment to take on the executor position, take some time to research what all it entails. It may not fit in with your schedule, or you may feel too overwhelmed to move forward. Ask beneficiaries and family members to see if they may be available to take some tasks off your hands. Alternatively, junk removal, estate sale, and attorney services are also available when you need help lightening the load. The money to pay for these services should come out of the estate, and therefore will not impact your own personal finances.
If you delve into everything probate as well as your options for delegating responsibilities and still do not think you can fulfill the executor role, nothing legally obliges you to accept the position. Prioritize yourself and your boundaries first.
Mistake Two: Not Reaching Out for Help
Many executors mistakenly believe that they have to work through probate alone. While you are the estate’s representative on paper, nothing legally prevents you from getting help from family members, beneficiaries, and probate attorneys if you need it. Probate attorneys are especially valuable when you find yourself hung up on some of the technicalities involved in the process.
Designating tasks to others with the willingness and capability to assist keeps your executor role better organized. While probate can’t be rushed, taking the time to reach out to others for help prevents snags in the process, making an already complex undertaking much easier to tackle.
Mistake Three: Delaying Executor Responsibilities
An executor understandably needs to take some time after the funeral to work through the most difficult moments, but you can’t wait too long to start ushering the estate through probate, either. Begin executing your responsibilities as soon as you are able. Waiting too long can lead to serious problems, such as conflicts with beneficiaries and mounting costs as you deal with paying taxes and other expenditures out of the estate. Similarly, any repairs that may need to be made on properties before selling them could worsen (and end up costing more) if you take too long to address them.
Probate usually takes anywhere from nine months to a year to complete, so it’s important to get the ball rolling as soon as possible.
Mistake Four: Not Communicating
Serving in an executor role requires a lot of communication. Beneficiaries, family members, probate attorneys, probate court personnel, and any contractors you may need to hire for property repairs will all need to hear back from you in a timely manner. Failing to communicate clearly and punctually can compromise the estate. You may even be removed from your executor role if beneficiaries and probate court professionals believe you’ve grown derelict in your duties.
Keeping any scheduled phone calls, appointments, and court dates on your calendar and setting reminders beforehand so you don’t forget is one of the easiest ways to make sure you don’t miss any important milestones. Take notes, too, perhaps in a notebook dedicated specifically to probate. You might also want to consider setting up an email address specifically for estate-related matters to prevent overfilling your personal inbox.
Mistake Five: Disorganization
Probate involves a lot of paperwork in addition to routine probate court appointments and meetings with beneficiaries. Before officially starting your executor responsibilities, take some time to come up with an organization plan that best suits your style. Folders, planners, calendars, phone alerts, and email labels are all extremely handy tools when keeping up with everything probate entails. Even if you don’t need other people’s help to fulfill your duties, you’ll definitely help yourself, beneficiaries, and probate court personnel by always staying on top of things.
Find Success as a Georgia Executor
We created the Georgia Probate Resource website to provide peace of mind to executors needing a little guidance through the complexities of probate. Our blogs cover a wide range of topics to help you best navigate your role for a headache-free experience settling an estate. Other posts to get you started include the following: