The probate process is full of language that is widely assumed to mean one thing, when it technically means something different or narrower. Executor duty generally consists of administering a deceased person’s (decedent’s) estate. In fact, an executor is the title given to someone tasked with managing the estate of a person who died with a will (testator).
Someone who died without a will is said to have died “intestate” and the person in charge of their estate is called an “administrator.” Administrators and executors collectively are called “personal representatives.”
Similarly, many people assume that an “heir” is someone who inherits from a decedent. What the term really means is a person who would be entitled by law to inherit from someone who died intestate, often a child or grandchild, but perhaps a parent, sibling, aunt, uncle, or cousin. (Spouses, while they have priority to inherit, are not considered “heirs.”) “Beneficiary” is the technical term for someone who inherits under a will or trust. An heir need not be a beneficiary (like a child who has been disowned). A beneficiary need not be an heir (like a friend named in a will… Read More
In Ohio, as in other states, attorneys who assist a personal representative in the administration of an estate are entitled to have their reasonable fees paid out of the estate. Attorney fees are governed not only by ethical guidelines established by attorneys' Rules of Professional Conduct, but by other Ohio rules and statutes. As such, attorney fees in estate administration are perhaps some of the most strictly regulated. Although attorney fees are paid out of the estate, Ohio case law has established that it is the personal representative, rather than the estate itself, who is the attorney's client.
What is a reasonable attorney fee for estate administration, and how is it determined? Essential guidance comes from Rule of Professional Conduct 1.5 (Rule 1.5), which states that a "lawyer shall not make an agreement for, charge, or collect an illegal or clearly excessive fee." A fee would be illegal if it violated a statute or some administrative regulation. A fee would be considered "clearly excessive" if an attorney of ordinary prudence would be left with a "definite and firm conviction" that the fee was excessive.
Imagine the following scenario: Your sister, your only sibling, is a single mother of two young children. She hasn't gotten around to making an estate plan because, well, she's the single mother of two young children. You know she does all her banking online, but you don't know the details. If she died suddenly, and you needed to administer her estate, would you know where to begin? Would you even be able to gain access to the information you needed? This is just one of many scenarios that makes fiduciary access to digital assets in Ohio an important issue.
A fiduciary is someone who manages assets for the benefit of someone else, and is required to do so in the beneficiaries' best interest. So "fiduciary" is an umbrella term that refers to, among other things, the executor of a will, the administrator of an estate where there is no will, a guardian, an agent under a power of attorney, or the trustee of a trust.
As a fiduciary, you have the responsibility to act in the best interest of the beneficiaries of an estate or trust, but until recently, it may have been difficult to gain access to the data or documents you needed to do so. Once upon a time, there were pape… Read More
Ohio trustees are fiduciaries, bound to act in the best interests of the beneficiaries of the trusts they are managing. As such, they frequently face ethical dilemmas regarding their duties. Let's talk about some of the ethical issues in trust administration, along with suggestions for addressing them.
Most trustees have the best of intentions, but may not anticipate some of the scenarios that could arise in the course of their administration of the trust. By considering some potential ethical pitfalls in advance, trustees can be better prepared to handle these situations.
Certain duties are imposed on trustees by Ohio statute. These include a duty of communication, which requires a trustee to "keep the current beneficiaries of the trust reasonably informed about the administration of the trust and of the material facts necessary for them to protect their interests.” Trustees also have a duty of confidentiality, by which they are bound to "administer the trust in good faith, in accordance with its terms and purposes and the interests of the beneficiaries" and of course, as with Ohio law.
These ethical obligations are in many ways analogous to those that at… Read More
Serving as the executor of an estate can be a daunting prospect, especially if it's a large or complex estate, and particularly if you have never before served as executor. It is reasonable to be concerned about this responsibility, but you do not have to be overwhelmed. As attorneys who have guided executors through hundreds of Ohio probate matters, we have guidance to offer first time executors that we hope will set your mind at ease and make the probate process smoother. Here are some of the things people often wish they knew before serving as a first-time executor.
Even before the probate estate is opened, you will begin accumulating documents relevant to the estate. These may be bills that have gone out to the deceased person (decedent) which need to be paid, mail, and receipts. You don't need to have a fancy filing system, but it will reduce your stress immeasurably to be able to quickly lay hands on any document that has to do with the estate.
Part of your job will be to keep meticulous records of any claims against the estate, estate income, and payments made by the estate. Even if your "filing system" is a larg… Read More
If you've been appointed or named as personal representative of a deceased person's estate in Ohio, you already know you have a lengthy "to-do" list. However, you may not have thought much about what NOT to do as the personal representative of the estate.
Here are some rules for how to avoid trouble when you're administering a loved one's estate.
Anyone who would be entitled to inherit from the deceased if he or she died without a will is entitled to notice of the probate of an estate. Heirs may choose to waive their right to notice, but the personal representative is obligated to go through the process of giving notice or securing a waiver. This is usually routine, but can be touchy, say, if Uncle Joe had a child out of wedlock who was never publicly acknowledged but whom everyone knew about. Don't be tempted to do an end run around the law. Notify everyone who has a legal right to notice.
Part of the reason for the probate process is to allow the personal representative to notify potential credit… Read More
When you think of assets, what springs to mind? If you're like most people, the answer is bank and investment accounts, real estate, and other tangible things with financial value. But you have other things of value that you can't put your hands on—that is, unless your hands are on your computer, phone, or tablet. In other words, your so-called "digital assets."
A decade ago, few people thought about digital assets. But now, when so many people have a social media presence on multiple platforms, and manage much of their financial life online, management of digital assets is increasingly important. And if you are not able to manage your own digital assets, either after your death or because you have been somehow incapacitated, what guidance is available for the person charged with doing so--your fiduciary? Or, what if you happen to be a fiduciary, in charge of managing assets or making decisions for someone else's benefit? What rights and limits do you have to access someone else's digital assets?
There are a number of scenarios in which you might act as a fiduciary with regard to another person's digital assets. O… Read More
If you've recently been appointed executor of a loved one's estate, you've been hit with something of a double whammy: grief at the loss of someone close to you, and the responsibility of making sure their estate is appropriately managed and distributed. Particularly if you've never served as an executor before, you may find the documentation and dissemination of information to the court, heirs and creditors overwhelming. If you make errors, you could delay the administration of the estate, cost the estate money, or even be subject to personal liability.
If you're wise, you've already retained an experienced probate attorney to help you navigate the legal landscape of the probate process. But there are still tasks that you will be handling yourself. The good news is that increasingly, there is software and online tools for executors that can help make your part of the work easier and more organized.
You've been appointed executor of the estate of a loved one. Taking your responsibilities seriously, you undertake to locate and identify all of the deceased's assets for an inventory. It is not always easy to locate assets of a late family member. Especially if the deceased was a parent, you may have a pretty good idea of where to start; after all, you took dad to the bank every other week, so you know where his account was. But beyond checking and savings accounts, do you really know what assets he had? And how do you begin to find out?
Locating a loved one's assets is often challenging because we rarely have direct conversations with each other about exactly what we own and where it is. As an adult child, asking an aging parent about these matters can feel (to your parent or to you) as if you're just waiting for them to die so you can collect their wealth. While of course this is not the case, the discomfort of broaching the topic prevents most people from doing so. Then, one day, it's too late.
Here's a helpful guide on how to locate assets of a late family member so they can go through the Read More
Serving as executor of a loved one's estate carries many responsibilities, and often, it seems, nearly as many pitfalls. Most family members who serve as executors have little experience doing so, making the task even more challenging. Unfortunately, it is possible to make missteps in administering an estate and not realize it until after the harm is done.
It may be helpful to become aware of some of the more common, and sometimes surprising, mistakes that executors make, and learn how you can avoid them.
It's very important to open a probate case promptly, but take enough time to make sure you're doing the right things in the right order. Mishandling of estate business, even inadvertently, can result in personal liability for an executor. Even if you're not held liable for a mistake, errors caused by haste could delay the resolution of the estate.
For instance, Ohio law forgives almost all unsecured creditor claims if the estate is not opened for six months after the death. Opening the estate too soon could result in the loss of thousands of dollars.
Chanc… Read More