So, you’re thinking about estate planning…
In my Cobb County probate and estate planning practice, after naming guardians for their minor children, I ask my clients who they would like as their executor...
Or maybe, someone you know has asked you to be their executor…
If either of these scenarios sounds familiar, it might be a good idea to know exactly what an executor does under Georgia law before you make a commitment either way.
Being an Executor - An Honor and a Burden
The executor of an estate in Georgia is charged with taking care of a person’s final business on earth. You are responsible for protecting the deceased person’s property until all the taxes and debts are paid and making sure that everyone else receives what they’re entitled to under the estate. That can be a huge task or a small one, depending on the size and complexity of the estate.
As an executor, you don’t have to be a legal expert or an accountant but you do have to be honest, impartial and detail oriented. As an executor, you’re charged with a “fiduciary duty” (which means a duty to act in good faith and honesty) in all business of the estate. If you fail to carry out this “fiduciary duty”, you could be held legally liable for that failure. This is a serious consideration when deciding who to name as your executor or whether or not to accept appointment as the executor of someone else’s estate.
Again, depending on the size and complexity of the estate, you could feel like Switzerland in the middle of warring factions for a long time until everything is settled. Make sure your nerves are up to the task before you sign on.
The Daily Business of the Estate
Executors have a lot of work to do to settle an estate, regardless of the size. Some of the things you would be responsible for are:
· Finding and managing the deceased person’s assets until they’re distributed to the heirs of the estate. You may be asked to make decisions on whether or not to sell certain assets or keep them in the estate.
· Determining whether or not the will needs to be sent through probate. If there is a surviving spouse, many of the assets that were jointly owned may pass on to the spouse without the probate process. Always consult an estate planning lawyer to determine what needs to be done.
· Determining who actually inherits property. If you’ve been named as an executor, chances are that your loved one left a will. That makes this part of the process much easier. If your loved one died without a will, you could have a serious chore ahead of you.
· Take care of any necessary court filings. Even if the probate process is not necessary, the will still needs to be filed with the probate court. If it turns out that the estate does need to go through probate, you could have a substantial list of filings to take care of.
· Handling the day-to-day grind. This could be a laundry list of little details that need to be taken care of to close out an estate. You could be cancelling credit cards, notifying the Social Security Administration and Medicare of the death, stopping mail deliveries from the Post Office, determining who takes care of pets, and the list goes on. Make sure you have the time and the ability to handle all these daily details before you agree to the task.
· Setting up a bank account for the estate. If you don’t have signature authority on the decedent’s bank accounts (and you probably won’t), you will need to set up an account to take care of the expenses involved in wrapping up the estate. Any insurance payments, stock dividends or final paychecks will go into this account to pay ongoing bills such as a mortgage or property insurance until the estate is settled and the assets are distributed. A word to the wise - keep thorough records of all sums coming into and going out of this account to head off any potential problems with heirs to the estate.
· Paying taxes. Yes, a final income tax return has to be filed for the deceased person and it will cover the period from the beginning of the tax year until the date of death. If the estate is a large one, state and federal estate tax returns will need to be filed as well.
Being an Executor Requires Commitment
Take another look at the list of duties we just gave you. Stop and seriously think about all the things that would go into settling your estate - who needs to be paid, what needs to be sold, who gets what - and then make a decision on who would be the best person you know to handle all that. Once you have someone in mind, talk to them about it at length. Show them our list and make sure they’re okay with handling this much detail in someone else’s life before you name them as your executor (or before you agree to be the executor of someone else’s estate).
Call us to schedule your Georgia Family Treasures Planning Session today. As part of our Georgia Family Treasures Planning Session, we will sit down with you and go over a list of what needs to be done with your estate and give you an unbiased opinion on your options for an executor. Our Georgia Family Treasures Planning Session is normally $750, but this month I’ve made space for the next five people who mention this article to have a complete planning session with me at no charge. Call us at 770-425-6060 today and mention this article.