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Common probate mistakes to avoid making

On Behalf of | Jun 28, 2024 | Estate Planning |

Probate involves administering a deceased person’s estate by organizing assets, settling debts, and distributing the remaining assets to heirs. The process can involve complications and errors, but recognizing common pitfalls can help with navigating it more effectively.

Failing to file in a timely manner

One common error is not filing the will with the local court promptly after a death. Delaying can complicate matters, leading to added stress for heirs. To avoid this, it’s crucial to act swiftly and ensure you submit all necessary documents to avoid delays.

Ignoring the details of the will

Another mistake is to ignore the specifics mentioned in the will or trust. Each will is unique, and the conditions must be carefully followed to guarantee that the deceased’s wishes prevail and legal issues do not arise. Paying close attention to the details and seeking professional advice if anything is confusing can help to avoid problems brought on by misunderstandings.

Poor communication with beneficiaries

The fiduciary is responsible for keeping the heirs of an estate informed throughout the probate process. Failure to communicate can lead to a lack of trust between beneficiaries and the fiduciary. Maintaining open lines of communication and providing updates regularly helps all involved parties and can even prevent litigation. 

Premature distribution of estate assets

Prior to selling assets one should verify they have the proper authorization to do so. Additionally, knowing the value of the estate before paying debts or incurring expenses will help prevent spending in excess of estate assets. Funds should be retained for unexpected expenses or debts. Creditors have one year to bring a claim against the estate following the qualification of a personal representative.

Failure to perform proper accounting

It’s important for fiduciaries to maintain accurate financial records regarding the assets of the estate. This includes keeping records of receipts and transactions and ensuring the funds of the estate stay separate from any personal funds. Additionally, the decedent and the estate still have tax obligations that need to be addressed, including the filing of tax returns for both entities.

In our area, a common accounting error fiduciaries commit is using debit cards to perform transactions for the estate account. Electronic transactions do not provide an adequate paper trail for the Commissioner of Accounts. Instead, it is recommended to make payments with checks and retain copies of the financial records.

Key insights for managing probate effectively

Thorough preparation and attention to legal requirements are key in managing the responsibilities that come with probate. By staying informed and proactive, you can help ensure the process respects the wishes of the deceased and the rights of the heirs. Be cautious when receiving advice from those who are not estate planning attorneys. The laws impacting probate change based on state and even local government. The process and requirements of one area may be completely different from another. Many of these mistakes can be avoided by seeking assistance from counsel.