Being chosen as an executor or trustee can be a big responsibility, and it is not one that you should take lightly. If someone you know has asked you to serve either as an executor or trustee, that person believes that you will fulfill your duties in a trustworthy manner, consistent with their wishes. There are important takeaways that you should note if you have found yourself in one of these positions; but, as always, the best thing you can do to fully understand your role is to speak with an experienced, dependable estate planning attorney.
An executor is someone appointed to carry out a decedent’s will. A trustee, on the other hand, is appointed when the decedent has organized their assets in the form of a trust. The trustee has ultimate control over the administration of the trust, but he or she has a duty to follow the decedent’s instructions on how exactly to administer the decedent’s property.
The first thing you should do as an executor or trustee is read the documents left by the decedent, whether those documents come in the form of a will or a trust. The decedent might have left co-executors or co-trustees, for example, or might have written specific instructions about what should happen to the assets in the short-term future. There might be time limits on when these assets need to be distributed, and it is important not to delay the initial review of the will or trust.
The executor or trustee is immediately responsible for the assets in the estate or trust. Sometimes, it is necessary to hire an appraiser to value certain property, including real estate, business interests, or any rare or unique items that the decedent might have owned. In the same vein, the executor or trustee is in charge of ushering the estate through the probate process, which includes dealing with unpaid bills, whether they come in the form of credit card statements, taxes, or personal debts.
Generally, one of the last steps in the process is making sure that the named beneficiaries receive the assets they have been promised. Depending on the document left by the decedent, the exact instructions can be difficult to interpret, and you may again require legal help to make sure the assets are accurately distributed.
This list of steps is by no means exhaustive. In reality, overseeing a decedent’s property is a complex job, one that requires an in-depth understanding of the law and experience with handling estates. Before you go about completing any of these tasks, speak with a qualified estate planning attorney that can help you understand how to do the job that is before you.
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At McCulloch & Miller, PLLC, we specialize in probate law, estate planning, and trusts. We are well-equipped to give you the advice you need, and we take pride in our meticulous attention to detail as well as the individualized level of care we bring to each client. If you are in the Houston area and don’t yet have an attorney to help you take care of your estate planning needs, call us today at 713-597-7176.