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Eight Things NOT to Do as the Personal Representative of an Estate

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.

DON'T Neglect to Give Proper Notice of the 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.

DON'T Distribute any Assets Until You Have Fully Assessed Possible Claims Against the Estate.

Part of the reason for the probate process is to allow the personal representative to notify potential credit… Read More

Guidance for Fiduciaries Regarding Digital Assets

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?

Managing Digital Assets for Someone Else

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

How Online Tools for Executors Can Help with Administering an Estate

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.

Best Software and Online Tools for Executors

One such tool is EstateExec.com, which was developed by Daniel Stickel after he experienced challenges and frustration while serving as executo… Read More

How Do I Locate Assets of a Late Family Member?

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? Avoid These Mistakes.

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.

Rushing Administration of the Estate

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.

Paying Bills as Soon as They're Received

Chanc… Read More

What are "Letters of Administration?"

The Ohio probate process is often an unfamiliar landscape for those who must navigate it after the loss of a loved one. There are many legal terms to make sense of, including "letters of administration" and "letters testamentary."

"Letters of administration" refers to the document given to the personal representative, or administrator, of the estate of a deceased person who died without a will. This document gives that person legal authority to administer the estate of the deceased, including gathering assets, receiving payments due the estate, paying bills and taxes, and distributing property to heirs. (Letters testamentary give the same authority to a person who has been named as an executor in a will.)

You can understand why letters of administration are necessary. It's not enough that someone say they are speaking or acting on behalf of a decedent's estate. Someone might claim to be, or actually be, a relative of the deceased and attempt to collect an asset of the estate. If it turns out they do not have authority to do so, whoever turned over the asset cou… Read More

When a Personal Representative Breaches Their Duty

Serving as the personal representative (also called the executor or administrator) of an estate is a great responsibility. You're responsible for identifying, inventorying, securing, and distributing a deceased person's assets, not to mention paying their creditors and the estate's income taxes. For someone who's never served in this capacity before, the responsibility can be overwhelming, especially if the estate contains complex assets like a business or rental property out of state. It can be easy to make a mistake, which is why Ohio law authorizes a personal representative to hire a probate attorney to assist in the administration, and for the attorney's fees to be paid out of estate funds, not the personal representative's pocket.

Most personal representatives take their position very seriously and strive to do a good and efficient job. On occasion, however, a personal representative may act carelessly or even unethically, breaching the duty they've undertaken to faithfully execute. What recourse do heirs and creditors have when a personal representative breaches their duty?

What Is a Breach of the Personal Representative's Duty?

A personal representa… Read More

Estate Sales and Probate in Ohio

One of the duties of an executor (also called an administrator) of an Ohio probate estate is to manage the deceased's personal property. Depending on the circumstances, this may call for liquidating or selling some property. This often takes place via an estate sale.

While estate sales may be held for other reasons besides the death of a property owner, such as a move, they are a common way of disposing of personal property when someone has passed away. What restrictions are there on executors with respect to conducting an estate sale in Ohio?

Ohio Law Regarding Estate Sales

An executor must get permission to conduct an estate sale. If the probate court is satisfied that conducting a sale would be in the best interests of the estate, it will authorize the executor to carry out a sale. The estate sale may happen at any point in the probate process, and may be private or open to the public.

So far, so good. But an executor can't put just any estate property up for sale. If there is property that has been specifically bequeathed to someone, that property may not be sold (unless estate debts are such tha… Read More

How Do You Become the Executor of an Estate?

If the deceased person (decedent) had a will, the will almost certainly named an executor. The probate court for the county in which the decedent was domiciled will need to admit the will to probate and will most likely appoint the named person as executor of the estate.

Wait, isn't the court obligated to appoint the executor that the decedent chose? Yes and no. The Ohio Revised Code says that the court shall issue letters of appointment to an an executor named in a will if the person named is "suitable, competent, accepts the appointment, and gives bond if that is required." If a named executor is deceased, incarcerated, or otherwise unsuitable, the court will name a different executor.

The person whose will is being probated may name co-executors, as permitted by law. Co-executors must be willing and able to work together for the benefit of the estate and heirs.

What's the Difference Between an Executor of an Estate, an Administrator, and a Personal Representative? Read More