Administering a person’s estate is an honor usually bestowed upon a family member or trusted friend when drafting a will.
However, complications can arise before or during the probate process, putting an executor in legal jeopardy, potentially leading to devastating personal and financial consequences.
Gauging whether legal representation is necessary
Conventional wisdom is to speak to a lawyer over large complex estates, or if you are unfamiliar with Texas probate laws. A good way to decide is by asking yourself these questions:
- Can the decedent’s estate transfer without probate?
- Is the total amount of the estate under $75,000?
- Do beneficiaries get along with each other?
- Do I understand the Texas probate system?
- Does the estate only contain common assets, such as a house, financial accounts, vehicles and household goods?
- Is there enough money to pay off all existing debt?
- Is the estate small enough to avoid state or federal estate taxes?
If you answer “yes” to all of these questions, you may be able to administer the estate on your own. However, an attorney is recommended when estates contain a business, commercial real estate or any assets that require ongoing management.
Understanding the role
The probate process can take months or years to complete. Those selected for the honor must understand what’s required, such as filing the will with the probate court, notifying creditors and beneficiaries, paying taxes and debts and distributing the remaining amount.
They must also understand the consequences for violating fiduciary or ethical responsibilities through willful or un-willful actions, such as self-dealing, favoring beneficiaries or failing to advance the process despite attorney notices to proceed.
Even when estates are small, consulting an experienced probate and estate administration lawyer can make the process smoother. Being an executor is one of the most important roles anyone can have, and it’s crucial to fulfill the legal requirements as well as the decedent’s last wishes.