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How do you protect your position as executor of an estate?

Handling an estate on behalf of a deceased loved one is often a difficult task. First, you have to review and make sense of the last will and estate plan. Then, you have to submit all necessary documentation to relevant parties, such as the bank and creditors of the deceased. Finally, you have to pay off debts, sell assets and allocate different possessions to different heirs per the instructions in the last will. It can be a daunting and thankless process.

In some cases, the administration of an estate can lead to tensions and discord in a family or among a pool of heirs. People you have been close with could attack your performance or even challenge your position as executor if they are unhappy with the will or how you handle the estate. Thankfully, there are certain things you can do to protect your role as executor and cut down on tensions among the beneficiaries of the estate.

Share as much information as is appropriate

Unmet expectations are a major source of unhappiness in many estates. Children, spouses and lovers, close friends and other relatives may all have certain expectations about what they will receive from the estate. If the deceased did not share his or her intentions openly, some of those beneficiaries and heirs could end up feeling disappointed with their lot. That, in turn, could lead to someone contesting the will or challenging your position in the hope of securing a larger portion of the estate.

Providing copies of the will to the appropriate parties is one way to reduce frustration and tension. If people can read the actual document and understand the intentions and wishes of the deceased, they may then agree that you are simply following the guidelines and instructions left for you. In some cases, however, you could still find yourself heading to probate court to defend your administration of the estate.

Document everything and maintain organized records

One major mistake that people make when handling an estate is giving assets to the intended heirs without documenting the process. You should do everything you can to ensure there is a paper trial for any assets, whether they are financial or family heirlooms. Having beneficiaries sign acknowledgments or receipts when they receive assets is always a good idea.

You should also maintain records of all obligations, bills and debts the estate must handle. This helps to prevent people from claiming that you have squandered or misused estate funds. A clear record that shows the steps you have taken can demonstrate to the probate courts that you are upholding your duty as executor and following the instructions left behind by the deceased. That may prove invaluable if someone challenges how you've been handling the estate.

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