Instead of appointing a family member to administer an estate, you can hire a professional executor. We often get asked if this is a safe and better route. In a recent case, Sean contacted us to discuss this option. In his particular situation, he is from a blended family. His mother died and she is survived by three adult kids and a stepfather who was separated from his mother for a long time before her death. In his case, he is facing some possible trust issues. For example, the family could tentatively agree to equal shares, but the stepfather could claim full spousal status and kids could try to disqualify the stepdad (there is certainly an argument that he is not a spouse).
If the stepfather acts as the executor, the children may not be completely trusting. Similarly, if the children are the executors, the stepfather may have trust issues. With this complex family dynamic, an independent professional executor makes tons of sense. However, some of the heirs in Sean’s case were a bit concerned about handing over the reins and control of the entire estate to a stranger. Being apprehensive is completely understandable, but here’s why it still makes the most sense.
What is an Estate Accounting?
A professional executor will file a full accounting to close the estate. An accounting is an official record of all books. Everyone gets to see line by line every single dollar and cent that came in and went out of the estate. We are talking full transparency and disclosure. Every heir will get to see everything that happened without any questions. It’s all there in black and white. Professional executors do this not only to put everyone’s mind at ease, but it is also for their protection. Professional executors can only be released from liability from what they disclosed, which is why we disclose everything.
To put it bluntly, no matter how hard they try and how meticulously organized they are, amateur executors such as family members, friends, and neighbors keep terrible estate records. For example, in order for the estate to draft and file an estate accounting, our office has to work with the executor to gather all documents and records. Most of the time, many things are missing and there is a bunch of back and forth to find the missing documents. It costs the estate money to gather these docs and find the items that were never obtained or missing.
Usually, non-professional executor accountings are mediocre at best. On the contrary, professional executors will provide the estate with a clean and solid accounting. It’s not that we are more organized, it’s that professional executors are keenly aware of the risks of liability. We know that if we mess up, the courts will come down on us. We also know the end game, so we know how to start gathering and keep track of finances immediately upon starting the case. We are working the whole time towards producing a line-by-line accounting of all of the funds.
What Does an Executor Bond Do?
An executor bond is an insurance against the executor for the benefit of the heirs. So, if the executor makes a mistake, loses something, or is an outright thief resulting in the heirs not receiving what they should have, then the bonding company will pay the claim. With a bond in place, the worse that will happen is that you, as an heir, get to file a claim against the bonding insurance company to get the money. It will then be the job of the insurance company to recover the funds from the executor, and not the heirs.
To get a bond you need exceptional credit, especially with large estates. Generally, they want 750+ credit scores. It is tough for some amateur executors to get a bond for this reason. As a professional executor, we have never had a problem getting a bond and have never had a claim against a bond. If not required, very often, we will get a bond anyway to put the heirs at ease. In some cases, the courts simply require them of the executor, regardless of experience.
When you work with a professional executor and request for them to be bonded, make sure you are ok with the payment of the premium. This is the amount that will be paid annually to the bonding company by the estate. The premium fluctuates depending on the size of the estate and the bond amount. We can certainly get a quote beforehand and you can decide if it’s worth the annual payment.
Are Co-Executors a Good Idea?
In Sean’s case, one of the questions the family asked was if we can have one family member and one professional working as co-executors. They wanted to know if co-executors are a good idea. The short answer is no. It boils down to too many “cooks in the kitchen.” When you have too many people involved with what is really a one-person job, then it becomes more complicated.
You will need each executors’ original signatures on all documents and authorization for all decisions. So, all the benefits of hiring a pro as a centralized decision-maker with experience to move the estate along properly and quickly is being thrown out the window. There are situations where executors are required to do things in person, such as opening the estate bank account. Both executors would need to go the bank together, and this may be challenging to coordinate, especially if one executor lives out of town or out of the country.
It also complicates the financials. You will have two people keeping financial records differently, that you have to merge together at the end. Collecting and combining two executor’s documents will take substantially more time and the estate will bear the cost.
While we do not advocate this route, if it’s the only way the family will be on board with a professional, then we can explore it. For the right family, we are willing to do it. We recommend that you speak with the professional and research what goes into administrating an estate before deciding on the co-executorship route.