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.
One such tool is EstateExec.com, which was developed by Daniel Stickel after he experienced challenges and frustration while serving as executor of his father's estate. The site prides itself on offering executors guidance, including a customized checklist that leads them step-by-step through the required tasks in the probate process.
EstateExec.com also offers a centralized place for record-keeping, allowing executors to organize inventories of assets, document their reasonable expenses, and keep track of actions they have taken and disbursements they have made on behalf of the estate. Because the site allows an executor to grant access to others, it facilitates communication, promotes transparency, and helps other heirs feel that they understand what is going on with the estate.
Many executors find that it's more convenient to have information entered in a central location where it cannot be lost than to have a drawer or desk full of disorganized files. The site assures users that it keeps all data private, and that data is encrypted between the site and users' servers. There is a modest fee ($79) per estate, but the increased organization the site offers is likely worth it.
There are also many free resources online, including the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel's (ACTEC) list of tools for executors. Many banks and financial institutions also provide free tools like interactive checklists.
Using online tools can keep you organized, help you communicate, and save you time and money. That said, you should not consider them a substitute for legal counsel, even if you have a simple probate matter, and especially not if the case is one involving unusual assets or debt, or you expect there might be a dispute among heirs.
Even in a relatively straightforward probate case, an experienced local attorney offers something no software can: knowledge of the local probate process and court system, and advice customized to your situation. We recently saved a spouse tens of thousands of dollars by helping her navigate well-established Ohio law pertaining to the payment of unsecured debt or expenses such as medical bills or credit card bills.
While online tools may be interactive, they are limited in their ability to answer specific questions. Your probate attorney is a resource who can guide you in your unique circumstances and help you avoid pitfalls. Your online tools can help you make the most of your time with your attorney (and keep the estate's legal fees) down, by helping you keep data organized so that you have more clarity about what your questions actually are.
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