elderly man looking over estate planning document

Most Common Probate Mistakes

Serving as an executor can be a stressful situation because most non-lawyers have never done this type of task before. It is easy to make a mistake. Some mistakes can cost the estate money, while other errors can make you personally liable.

When you get named as the executor of a will, you do not have to do the work yourself. You can hire a California estate planning attorney to handle probating the will and administering the estate. The fees for the lawyer will get paid by the estate. Here are some of the most common probate mistakes that executors make:

Getting in Over Their Heads

Unless you are an accountant, you probably do not want to try to learn accounting just for the purpose of handling this estate. If you are not a lawyer, you probably do not want to spend 100+ hours researching the law to learn what your duties are and how to take the estate through probate.

Even if you do not want to have an attorney take care of the probate matters, you might want to at least consult with one to find out what you are supposed to do.

Death and Taxes

When a person dies, their days of having to prepare tax returns and pay taxes are not yet over. Both the deceased individual and the estate have an obligation to file tax returns and pay whatever income and estate taxes are due. 

Estate tax returns are complicated. When a non-professional serves as an executor, it is more likely that there will be errors and miscalculations on the estate tax forms. The situation becomes particularly challenging when the executor distributes assets before learning that the estate owes additional taxes.

Not Knowing About Small Estate Administration

California provides an alternative to the formal probate process for small estates. The small estate administration process is faster and less expensive than formal probate. 

If an executor does not know about the small estate option, the heirs could wait much longer to receive their assets. Also, there will be less money at the end for the beneficiaries because the estate had to spend thousands more on formal probate.

Your Duty to Keep the Beneficiaries and Heirs Informed

The law requires the executor to provide notice to the heirs and beneficiaries of specific matters. When a layperson tries to serve as the executor of an estate, he often makes the mistake of not providing those notices. Failing to communicate with the heirs or beneficiaries is a common reason that the executor or estate gets sued.

Not Understanding the Difference Between Estate Assets and Other Assets

The executor has to gather all the assets, create an inventory, and run the assets through probate before distributing them. This process can take months to a year or longer.

Not every asset is an estate asset. Some items do not have to go through probate. Non-estate assets can get distributed immediately. For example, life insurance proceeds can often get to the beneficiaries within a few weeks. 

Also, non-estate assets do not count for purposes of federal estate taxes. Not understanding the difference between estate assets and non-estate assets can cost the estate plenty in terms of administration costs and taxes.

You can avoid these and other mistakes by working with a California estate planning attorney. Get in touch with our office today.