The weeks and months following a loved one’s passing can be a flurry of activity for the surviving family members. Funeral arrangements will need to be made and the process of wrapping up the decedent’s affairs will begin soon after. While the process of administering someone’s estate may take a few months, there are actions that the administrator should do quickly as part of their legal position. One of these is to help safeguard the estate’s assets and the value of those assets until they can be distributed.
Protecting Assets Not Just a Responsibility of the Estate’s Administrator
Every individual who may have some connection to a decedent’s property has a general obligation not to do anything that would waste or damage the property. For example, a granddaughter should not rummage through her deceased grandmother’s things before they have been distributed to her and damage valuable jewelry. Similarly, a child should not immediately go and sell their parent’s valuable investments unless and until those have been given over to the child in the estate plan.
An estate’s administrator’s task goes beyond this, though, and requires this person to take reasonable steps to protect estate assets from being damaged, destroyed, or their value reduced. Thus, an administrator or executor must not only refrain from deliberately committing acts that damage or destroy an estate’s property, but they must also affirmatively take steps to help preserve the value of the property until it can be distributed.
What Actions Must Executors Take in Administering an Estate?
Executors and administrators have a legal obligation to take steps that are reasonable and that are designed to keep an asset or item of property from losing too much of its value. The administrator need not go to extraordinary lengths or expend extreme amounts of resources in carrying out their obligations. Nor must the steps taken by the administrator actually preserve the property’s value. Still further, the administrator is not a guarantor that an item of property will retain the value it had on the date of the decedent’s death.
Executors and administrators typically fulfill their obligations if they:
- Do not stall or delay in carrying out the obligations of their office;
- Keep the heirs and beneficiaries of the estate reasonably apprised of the status of the estate and its assets;
- Secure real property against burglary and trespass (by posting signs, locking doors, and periodically checking on the property);
- Provide a death certificate to investment groups, insurance companies and banks so that unnecessary fees for inactivity are not incurred; and
- Retain the services of appraisers, accountants, lawyers, and others to help them administer the estate in as expeditious of a manner as possible.
Executors May Be Liable for the Loss of Value if They Act Unreasonably
An executor or administrator who does not take reasonable and prompt action to help preserve the value of the estate’s assets may face legal repercussions for their delay or carelessness. This may include being liable to the heirs or beneficiaries of the estate for the amount of value that the estate has lost because of the executor’s actions. Of course, it is far better to take care when creating your estate plan that you select and executor, trustee, and/or administrator who is not only trustworthy but also competent and capable of taking decisive action.
Talk with Dawes Legal, LLC for Help in Creating Your Estate Plan
Dawes Legal, LLC is an Ohio estate planning law practice that helps individuals plan for their futures and provide for their families’ futures. Call our office at (614) 733-9999 and schedule a meeting with our team to discuss your estate planning needs.