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Executors have serious responsibilities

The executor is a vital part of estate administration in Michigan. Their responsibilities are numerous, but their experience is often limited.

Right after the death of the decedent, the executor must undertake numerous tasks. These include finding the original will so probate can commence, cancelling the decedent's credit cards, protecting valuables, collecting mail, gaining access to the decedent's homestead, gathering prescriptions for destruction and obtaining several death certificates.

Next, the executor should retain a competent lawyer who can help assure the proper distribution of assets and resolving other estate issues. Executors must also keep track out-of-pocket expenses, locate family members and beneficiaries and gather signatures for legal documents.

More difficult work begins after the court issues letters of testamentary and recognizes the executor. They must gather information on assets such as stocks and bonds and real estate, taxes and personal property. Taxes must be filed and paid. Property needs to be kept in good condition and sold. Personal property should be distributed.

Every creditor must be paid. An executor is legally liable for intentional and negligent actions and may be sued by a creditor for intentionally avoiding payment of a legitimate debt. Hiring an accountant can help assure that taxes and valid debts are paid.

Finally, the executor must create the final accounting of the estate's assets and expenses, send the accounting and releases to beneficiaries for their signatures, pay the executor commission to themselves and submit a final inventory to the court.

By signing the release, the beneficiary agrees that the executor competently and honestly performed their duties and that they are ready to receive their bequest. The amount of the executor commission may be contained in the will, but Michigan has a default fee if this not addressed in the will.

The probate process is difficult and involves government agencies, communications with financial institutions, seeking access to another person's property, dealing with beneficiaries trying to gain access to money, trying to identify property and information and, in many cases, disputes among family members or creditors. A qualified attorney can help provide the experience and expertise to resolve these matters and expedite this process in accordance with the law.

Source: Kiplinger, "How to perform the duties of an executor of an estate," By Daniel A. Timins, Esq., CFP, Dec. 21, 2017

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