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Estate pitfalls to avoid

In many cases, the executor named under a New York testator's will has little or no prior experience fulfilling this role. Therefore, it isn't uncommon for such a person to make mistakes while trying to carry out an individual's last wishes. First, the executor may forget to receive the necessary probate court approvals. Then, all potential heirs must be notified of the testator's death whether or not they are listed as beneficiaries in the will.

Another common mistake is to commingle personal assets with assets from the estate. At best, this could cause confusion when attempting to settle the estate. At worst, it could lead to lawsuits from beneficiaries towards whom the executor has a fiduciary duty. In some cases, distributions made before taxes are paid could result in penalties being assessed against the estate and the need for some or all of an individual's inheritance to be returned.

Executors need to make sure that they keep good records. Otherwise, it could lead to legal challenges from beneficiaries who may not accept the official accounting of the estate. As a general rule, any payment made by the estate as well as all receipts and other relevant documents need to be kept. If litigation occurs, these records could establish that an executor took appropriate actions in settling the estate.

Proper record-keeping and paying attention to other details could prevent family disputes or will contests after an individual passes on. As executors are not expected to be well-versed in the applicable legal matters, they may want to have the assistance of an experienced attorney in handling some of these issues and procedures.

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