Being an Executor in Virginia—Items to Consider Before Serving

The death of a family member or friend is an extraordinarily emotional and stressful time. This stress can be compounded when you have also been asked to serve as executor of a person’s estate. During the last twenty plus years, we have had the privilege of representing numerous executors, most of whom have never served as executor before. In working with these clients, we found most were facing one or more of the following concerns:

Complexity

 

They were overwhelmed by the sheer complexity of everything they had to understand and all the duties involved in the role of executor. This concern is not misplaced. There are a significant number of estate administration requirements and tax laws that an executor must follow in Virginia.

Personal Liability

 

They feared personal liability for their actions. That’s right — if an executor does not follow the prescribed steps precisely, he or she may be held personally liable. Imagine having worked hard as an executor for a deceased relative or friend, only to end up paying out-of-pocket for an unintentional mistake.

Pressure from Beneficiaries

 

Most executors also dread having to interact with demanding beneficiaries and relatives, most of whom want payment of their inheritance immediately. The pressure from such impatient beneficiaries often causes executors to make premature distributions, causing additional problems and liability in the administration process.

If you are facing any of these concerns, then please keep reading.

Over the last two decades, we have helped numerous clients avoid feeling completely overwhelmed by showing them the steps needed to successfully fulfill their role as executor. If you are considering serving as Executor, there are three steps that you can take before accepting your appointment which will decrease your potential for liability.

Getting the Right Advice

The most important step you can take is to seek the appropriate help in serving as executor. You have every right (as a proper expense of the estate) to hire an attorney to help you. The right person will take the complexity out of the duties of being an executor which, in turn, will reduce your fears, stress, and liability.

Simplifying the Process Whenever Possible

There are times when someone named as executor does not need to actually serve in that role in order to distribute the estate’s assets. Many times a decedent dies with very few assets over which the executor needs to assert authority. I have found that by doing some due diligence, prior to officially accepting the role of executor, there have been a number of situations where no one actually needed to serve as executor – saving the estate thousands of dollars in costs.

Reducing Personal Liability by Following Some Key Rules

The first decision would be to qualify or not qualify. Sometimes the best decision is to not qualify.

Hold Off on Paying any Bills (at least initially).

If you find that you need to qualify as executor, one of the most counterintuitive pieces of advice we give is not to pay any of decedent’s debts or estate expenses until you have a handle on what assets are in the estate and what debts and expenses exist. If the estate does not have enough assets to cover all of the estate expenses and debts, then there is a strict order in which debts can be paid under Virginia law.

Protect Yourself to the Full Extent of the Law.

The good news is that there are certain procedures that can be followed under State and Federal law that will limit your personal liability. A prudent executor will work with an attorney to take advantage of all available methods for reducing personal liability.

If you have any of these concerns or wish to discuss the best ways to protect yourself, please feel free to contact us for a free initial consultation on your role as executor.

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