Practice AreasEstate Administration

If you, as a nominated Personal Representative or Successor Trustee, are charged with the responsibility of closing out a decedent's estate, virtually your first administrative decision is the selection of an attorney and/or tax advisor to assist and protect you. You will have responsibility to the estate, beneficiaries, creditors and taxing authorities. You will need to report and to account. If not done correctly, you can end up with personal liability.

Be sure you choose your representation carefully. Talk about work to be done and how it is billed. Discuss assets and asset classes. Discuss deadlines and tax issues. But remember, if you are the Personal Representative or Successor Trustee, the selection of your advisors is your decision.

You are going to need help, so meet with an advisor sooner rather than later. Here are some thoughts, pointers and rules of thumb.

  1. Get help! There are tax deadlines that must be met. Your advisors need time. Remember if you are one of two beneficiaries, help costs 50 cents on the dollar and if you are one of four, 25 cents on the dollar.
  2. Get the house on the market. If there is a house to be sold and proceeds distributed, do not delay. There are insurance issues and, since the death, it is a non-income producing asset subject to hazards and vandalism. Don't spend months organizing a painting party because you think it would show better: contact the agent, hire the help, and get it sold.
  3. Remove securities from market risk.
  4. Keep your counsel informed and provided with account statements. Ask your counsel to maintain, or help you maintain, an electronic register of all transactions so you can easily account to anyone if needed.
  5. Do not distribute assets without coordination with your advisor; there may be legal and tax consequences that could affect the wisdom and timing of those gifts.
  6. Be sensitive to the fact that while time might fly for you and your advisor, it might not for beneficiaries. Have your advisor help you keep them informed.
  7. There is nothing about probate that causes administration delays that don't already exist. It may take time to get billings from the hospital straightened out. Your tax advisor may need to see the 1099's that come in after the first of the year. The house may need time on the market. It may take time to process a claim, etc. These are delays you have to live with. However, delays caused by bad desk management or procrastination, on your part or that of your advisors, should not be acceptable. That should be clear.
Being a Personal Representative can be a thankless job but you were chosen for a reason. Make it a better experience by hiring good help.

Here a couple of links to information that may be helpful to you:

Here are examples of what other Bar associations have done about the problem of how living trusts are marketed:

Mark Goodall, Attorney at Law
10404 Essex Court, Suite 100
Omaha, Nebraska 68114