An executor or personal representative is responsible for handling many aspects of probate, including the distribution of assets once other administration issues have been managed. However, prematurely passing on these assets to beneficiaries can come with consequences.
It might seem easier or even a good way to make beneficiaries happy by making those distributions right away, this can be illegal and can expose you to personal liability. It’s much better to make a comprehensive list of all the assets and then hold them until probate can be completed.
At the early stages of probate, you don’t know about all the possible legal creditors, either. This means someone could come forward with a legitimate claim once you’ve already liquidated or given an asset to someone else. This does not delete the creditor’s right to recover, which can create a very complex situation. You don’t want to have to go back to that family member and ask for the item back.
Another reason to wait to make any transfers is that not all assets are probate assets. Some technically do not fall under the guidance of the will, such as retirement accounts or those placed in trusts. If those accidentally get lumped in with probate assets, this could create unnecessary confusion as well as personal liability.
If you’re newly appointed as an executor, even if the deceased person left great instructions for you, you might still want to hire an experienced probate lawyer to assist you with the many tasks required to close out probate. Even if you have a decent handle on all that is involved, it’s helpful to know that you’re on track and to feel confidence about the order in which you accomplish things.
Haven’t yet created your own estate? Contact an estate planning lawyer now to learn more about creating a personal plan.