While not all Minnesota probate litigation can be prevented, there are some things that an executor, often called a personal representative, can do to reduce the possibility of a lawsuit being filed in connection with an estate.
The first thing that an executor needs to remember is that she at all times is acting as a fiduciary for the estate. Effectively, this means two things. One, the executor does not represent herself, but instead represents the needs and interests of those who stand to benefit financially from an estate, including heirs who are expecting inheritances and creditors wanting their bills paid. Two, an executor’s mismanagement of an estate could mean that she gets sued and will be forced to make up for any losses with money out of her own pocket.
The way an executor does these two things is by observing the terms of the will, if there is one, and the orders of the court overseeing the estate. These important responsibilities are one reason why many executors, as one of their first decisions, choose to hire an estate administration attorney for legal assistance.
Other than assembling the right team, an executor in Minnesota should remember to maintain good communication with the heirs and creditors of the estate and to quickly get the information necessary to secure all property of the estate. An executor must observe the deadlines and requirements for those reports mandated by the probate court or state law. Moreover, any important decision or significant action on an estate should be communicated to interested parties.
With respect to securing property, an executor needs to quickly find out what assets a person owned when he or she died and go about collecting or establishing control of them. Some of this may be as straightforward as changing the name on a bank account to that of the estate. Other times, securing property can be tricky, such as in the case of a family member using a car of a relative who recently died.
Anyone who is an executor of an estate should understand the substantial responsibilities that they have, as well as their potential personal liability for mistakes in connection with distributing the estate’s assets.