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Learn the Ins and Outs of Being an Executor or Trustee

  • January 8th, 2008

Taking on the job of executor or trustee is not a role to be taken lightly. If you ignore certain problem signs, you could be setting yourself up for aggravation, red tape, years of work, angry battles with family members and even lawsuits, according to an article on the MSN Money Web site.

"I think people would be shocked to know what's often involved," says Blanche Lark Christerson, a director in Wealth Planning Strategies Group for Deutsche Bank Private Banking in New York City.

"Often the most difficult part is not dealing with the money or the lawyers or the courts," says Columbus, Ohio, attorney William J. Browning, who is an ElderLawAnswers member and a past president of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. "It's the personal property. I've had people fight over Tonka toys."

An executor is a person designated in a will to see that the deceased's last wishes are carried out and to settle the deceased's probate estate. An executor's job typically lasts from a few months to two years. If you're asked to be the trustee of an ongoing trust, by contrast, your job could go on for decades. A trustee is in charge of investing the money in the trust, making distributions and filing tax returns. Attorneys say the trustee's job is often harder and has the potential for more conflict.

"If you're held to have mismanaged the trust, then you're held personally responsible," Christerson said. "You're required to make the trust whole out of your own pocket." Executors can be sued as well.

All this doesn't mean you should necessarily say no when asked to be an executor or trustee. Very few wills or trusts are contested in court -- fewer than 3 percent according to attorney Browning -- and a competent lawyer can help guide you.

But the article identifies a number of red flags that should prompt you to think twice before saying yes:

  • You can't obtain a copy of the will or trust to read beforehand. Browning recommends that you also sit down with the lawyer who drafted the document to discuss your duties and the situation you're likely to face
  • .

  • Someone's being disinherited
  • There is already family tension
  • The person who's asking you isn't well organized
  • The trust was created with a kit or software rather than by a lawyer

  • You're being put in charge of a sibling's money.

To read the full MSN Money article, click here. (Article may no longer be available.)

To read a review of The Executor's Handbook, click here.

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Last Modified: 01/08/2008
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