There is a kind of honor involved in getting named the executor of an estate. The deceased obviously had faith in your ethics and ability to handle the difficulties and decisions involved with properly administrating an estate. He or she may have warned you about the role you would play in the last will or estate plan, or it may have come as a surprise when you were already in a state of grieving.
Regardless of whether you've had years to plan for the process or just need to jump in and start handling the affairs of the estate, there are certain steps you can take to protect your role as executor and ensure that your attempts to handle the estate and last will of the deceased won't result in a challenge in probate court.
Be open and honest with heirs and family members
Ideally, the decedent took the time to discuss estate plans and the contents of the last will with everyone who was or was not going to receive some assets. This is particularly important when someone cuts a family member or a child out of a will, as that can lead to an increase in the likelihood of a challenge in court.
If family members and heirs aren't familiar with the terms of the last will or estate plan, you should share the details with them as soon as possible. If people know what to expect, they are less likely to contest your administration of the estate due to the belief you aren't handling it properly.
Keep records of every single thing you do
Whether it's paying the monthly bills for the home or releasing personal possessions to family members, keep receipts and records of every dispersal of assets. If possible, have people sign to acknowledge receipt of physical items.
You want to have a paper trail showing how every asset and estate matter was handled. This helps establish that you have been following the instructions laid out in the last will and can serve as evidence if there is a challenge to your handling of the estate.
Treat the estate like a professional responsibility
No matter how emotional your connection to the deceased, you should do your best to handle the estate professionally and efficiently. The longer the process takes, the greater the potential for claims of failure to act or mishandling of the estate from others. If you accept the responsibility, you need to have the time, endurance and diligence to follow through.
It's important to realize that even if you do everything properly, some people simply won't be happy with the outcome. If someone expected to inherit a specific item or portion of the estate, not getting what was hoped for could result in a challenge to the estate.