Being named as executor of an estate or trustee for an estate-related trust is a great honor. It also requires a lot of extra effort and work. The person who named you as executor obviously trusted your ability to do the right thing. He or she believes you will handle the estate properly and ethically. You, in turn, will do your best to handle the estate as your deceased loved one would have wanted.
Sadly, other people may not agree with the terms of the last will or estate plan. Heirs and family members may become suspicious of how you’ve handled the money and other items, such as family heirlooms or property. Your best hope of avoiding conflict comes from following the estate plan carefully, offering family members and heirs full transparency and carefully documenting every dispersal from the estate.
Follow the estate plan exactly
Typically, last wills and estate plans are carefully created to avoid confusion about administration. Unfortunately, language that may seem clear to the person who created the will and his or her attorney could be confusing to others. Consulting with an outside attorney who understands estates and wills as well as the attorney who drafted the will can help you understand the intention behind every segment of the will and estate plan.
While you may believe that some terms or conditions are unfair, you should do your best to comply with the will as written. The testator (will maker) knew his or her intentions and desires, and it typically isn’t your place to second-guess those desires. It’s your job to follow directions as they are written.
Communicate carefully with everyone
Ideally, the testator made sure that everyone involved with the estate knew what to expect. It isn’t pleasant when you have to inform people that a parent or grandparent decided to remove them from the will. If people know what to anticipate in a will, they are less likely to contest it during administration.
As soon as you have an opportunity to review the estate plan and will, you should talk with the heirs. Provide copies of the written will, as well as estimates for timetables for handling different aspects of the estate administration.
Document everything you do to protect yourself
The best way to prove that you’ve been following instructions is to maintain meticulous records of all disbursement. Whether it’s the second-best dishes from the kitchen or the remnants of an investment account, everything that goes to an heir needs to be properly accounted for. Recording all the details of dispersals ensures that there is no confusion about how assets were distributed and protects you from challenges to your position as executor.