Today’s Wall Street Journal contains a worthwhile but cautionary article about the pitfalls that can face even the most well-meaning executor. As you will see, a lot of the decisions an executor must make need to be made counterintuitively. The results of following a normal instinct may actually prove to be costly if not downright disasterous.
Your lawblogger’s first boss succinctly explained the job of an executor to me some forty years ago. “Take the estate to a good and experienced lawyer. Hand it over to him or her and sign the checks and documents you are given to sign”. I have followed that recipe ever since. The estate checkbook stays in my desk and we coordinate all of the aspects of the estate with brokers, accountants and the other professionals needed to marshall the assets, sell what needs to be sold, pay the bills and pay the heirs. A lawyer’s prime responsibility is to protect the executors and trustees which can best be done by proceeding “by the book”.
Every once in a while, a client goes “rogue” either by accident or when they are sure that they can take care of business better than their attorney, conveniently ignoring the fact that their lawyer is trained and experienced to handle the estate and the client already has a full-time job. Even if the process is relatively undisturbed by this “freelancing” , it will invariably cause your lawyer to spend much more time on the estate and, in the end, will likely cause your bill to be higher and not lower as a result.