Six Common Mistakes People Make When Probating an Estate

If you’ve been named as an executor or personal representative and are tasked with settling an estate through probate, you’ll want to avoid these common mistakes.

Mistakes in Probating an Estate

Handling Assets Incorrectly

One of the first things an executor or personal representative must do is secure all of the decedent’s assets. Accomplishing this requires taking different steps for different types of assets. For example, financial accounts may simply need to be closed, whereas real property (such as a house) might require you to make sure the property is secure and arrange for its maintenance. 

Categorizing Assets Incorrectly

Some assets do not have to go through probate. When you inventory assets, it’s important to make sure you categorize them properly. Assets that are not typically subject to probate include:  

  • Assets held in trusts
  • Funds held in certain “beneficiary designated” accounts (that is, accounts where beneficiaries have already been designated)
  • Certain forms of property held jointly

Failing to Determine “Date of Death” Values

Date of Death values refer to the fair market value of each estate asset at the time of the decedent’s passing. The sooner this task is undertaken, the easier it will be to determine the correct value. Executors often turn to professional appraisers for assistance with this task.

Handling Creditors Improperly

Every potential creditor of the estate must be notified about the estate going into probate. If the creditor is known, he or she can be notified personally. Unknown creditors, on the other hand, must also be notified. How? Through a notice published in a local newspaper. The probate must be kept open for a period of time mandated by state statute to allow creditors to file claims against the decedent’s estate.

Failing to Communicate Effectively with Estate Beneficiaries

Working closely with beneficiaries is not a legal requirement, but failing to keep them abreast of developments can be a big mistake. In fact, poor communication sometimes leads to unnecessary, and expensive, litigation. Remember: You are not the only one dealing with the loss of a loved one—so, too, are the decedent’s heirs. It’s an emotional time for them, and they may feel slighted or ill-treated if you don’t stay in touch with them.

Distributing Estate Assets Too Soon

As the estate’s executor, you have the authority to distribute assets to beneficiaries as well as to approve and pay creditor claims. However, sometimes an estate lacks sufficient assets to honor bequests made in the will and pay every creditor claim. In such a situation, creditors must be prioritized according to the law and assets must be dispersed based on that prioritization. If you, as executor, do not follow the law, you could be held personally liable.

Experienced Attorneys Handling the Probate Process

Serving as a personal representative is a serious matter and involves substantial time and effort. Handling the situation alone is often a daunting task, particularly if you’re still going through the grieving process.  If you have been named as an executor/personal representative and would rather not accept the responsibility alone, we can handle the probate process for you from start to finish. This will allow you to focus on what is most important … coming to terms with your loss. 

When dealing with any kind of estate plan, it’s important to have experienced legal counsel. The estate planning lawyers with The Law Offices of Clifford M. Cohen can provide the guidance you need during this difficult time. We are here to serve as your counselors for life as we guide you through every step of the way.

With more than 35 years of experience, Mr. Cohen is a passionate attorney dedicated to both the efficacy of your estate plan and your well-being. We create genuine relationships with every concerned individual who welcomes our services to ensure that their best interests and loved ones are protected. Allow us to do the same for you. Contact us today at 202-895-2799 for a free case evaluation.