Steps to take to avoid conflict as executor of an estate

Earning the trust of a loved one over many years can sometimes mean accepting duties after the individual dies. When someone names you executor of one's estate, it is an honor. That typically means that the deceased placed great trust in you and believed you would follow the legacy he or she planned, as laid out in the will or estate plan. That places you in a position with a lot of responsibilities and scrutiny.

Many people feel unhappy with the inheritances they receive. It's common for people to expect a particular item and not receive it or to receive a smaller portion of the overall estate than they anticipated. These situations can result in a lot of anger and frustration, which can lead to an heir contesting the administration of the estate, despite your best efforts. Thankfully, there are things you can do to limit your risk or protect your position if you end up in probate court.

Make sure you fully understand the last will

Documentation and transparency in how you handle the estate should be your priorities. Sometimes, the language in a last will is open to interpretation. In situations where the exact meaning isn't clear, you should do your best to determine the meaning and intention of the deceased. Close loved ones or even the attorney who helped draft the document could provide insight in the matter.

Another way to ensure everyone knows what to expect is to offer copies of the last will as soon as possible to those it includes (or specifically disinherits). This allows people an opportunity to compare their expectations with the intentions and wishes of their loved one before any assets get transferred.

Keep records of everything you do with the estate

When you first take control of the estate, you may have to pay expenses like medical bills or even a mortgage. There are costs involved to maintain a property, even if the intention is to sell it. There may be even more if a family member will soon move in. Every expense, payment and asset should be accounted for in your records.

Retain bills and receipts from all purchases and payments that you make on behalf of the estate. When it comes to physical assets, it makes sense to invest in receipts that heirs can sign as proof that they picked up valuable items. That ensures a record of each set of silverware or antique dining room table.

If someone challenges your administration of the estate, those records will help. They can serve as evidence to the courts that you have followed the instructions of the will and fulfilled your fiduciary duty as an executor to the best of your ability.

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