Mistake #1: Failing to do a detailed assessment of the deceased’s assets and debts.
To dispatch with your responsibilities as an executor or personal representative, you need thorough information about the estate’s assets, debts, properties, investments and business dealings. You may need to look through bank statements, building records, business forms and tax returns to assemble this information.
As the “go to” person for information about the estate, you should expect to receive a lot of communication from creditors as well as from friends and family members who believe that they are (or should be) beneficiaries or heirs of the estate. In your role, you have what’s known as a fiduciary duty both to the estate and to those affected by it. Communicate well throughout the process!
Even if you have been a personal representative before — and you have some relevant legal or finance background — get assistance. After all, you might be under duress emotionally (particularly if the deceased was someone very close to you), and the scope and nature of the logistics can also be overwhelming. Seek help from financial advisors, accountants, and a Colorado probate attorney to make the job more manageable.
As much as you have a duty to care for the estate — and to take care of the people and institutions affected by it — you also have a right to be treated like a human being. Be restrained in terms of how and when you exert your power over stakeholders, but also don’t be shy about using that power to maintain order and to stop bad behavior.
It’s a mistake to assume that you will “by default” inherit certain assets from the estate, just like it’s a mistake to assume that you will be responsible for the estate’s debts or taxes. Understand the limits of your role and your power.
If you paid a creditor out of order or forgot to account for a piece of property, don’t close your eyes and pretend like the error never happened. Instead, always operate with integrity! If you believe that you made a mistake, acknowledge it, and seek to rectify the problem as soon as possible. Operate as if the court (and the estate’s creditors and beneficiaries) were watching your every move. Honest mistakes happen. They typically only cause legal trouble when personal representatives ignore them or try to sweep them under the rug.
For more detailed assistance with your challenges as a personal representative, contact our Colorado probate attorneys today for a free consultation.