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  • Writer's pictureKimberly Dotseth

Some Mistakes Executors/Personal Representatives Make – You Can Avoid These Mistakes

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Mistake One: Not having the right attorney to guide you. While probate can be processed on a “pro se” basis, that is, you’re doing it yourself, to expedite yourself through the court and to make sure your Petition to Probate is filled out correctly, so important, hire good help.

The attorney is supposed to be a neutral third party who works for you. You can ask us for a referral or begin by searching online for Probate Attorneys Near Me. Screen the list carefully. Go beyond Page 1 and 2 of your results. You do not need a large firm. The best match for you may be a single-person practice.


Mistake Two: Being confused about what to do first

Because you are new to this and also grieving the loss of a loved one, it’s easy to forget you are working towards the completion of a person’s estate, which is a long and complicated business transaction. First things first: Once you have access to the person’s personal residence, look high and low in the property for 1) a will, 2) a trust, 3) either of those things or both. I also tell my clients to 4) start gathering any bank statements tucked away or laying around. Get them in date order and clip them together.


Next, you want to 5) find all “active bills” such as the mortgage, credit cards, HOA dues, utilities, car insurance, car registration, home insurance and health insurance. Keep them together. At the very, very beginning you are not quite ready to do anything with them. Keep them very handy.

Because your attorney may be busy to answer all your questions, we can answer easy probate questions for you to get you through your journey between attorney visits or calls.


Mistake Three: Giving things away too fast and/or not knowing how to liquidate an estate.

No matter how tempting, do not start giving things away, even to loved ones, until you are appointed by the court as the estate’s personal representative. Once that happens, you’ll follow the court’s instructions on estate liquidation. If a will has been found and filed, the terms there will make clear to the court and your attorney “what’s next” but, for now, do not rush to give away clothes, cars, dishes, quilts, jewelry, money or even the person’s basics found in the property.


Mistake Four: Thinking your attorney will do everything. In fact, you will do a lot of the heavy lifting.

You can refer to the general probate timeline chart, but your process should take about a year. Once the court has given you permission, you can interview us and others to be your real estate broker, knowing you should absolutely choose a Certified Real Estate Probate Specialist like Kimberly.


You can begin to call around to interview estate sale companies. Yes, they charge a fee but provide a wonderful service, you get funds from the items for sale and they can help you completely empty the house after the sale is over.


Mistake Five: Locking up the house and going away while you think things over. You should remember that you are asking the courts to appoint you to be in charge of someone’s estate. To protect the property, make sure you check with heirs but change the locks. Secure all windows. Pull down the shades or close the curtains. Leave a few lights on in the house. And check on the house every 48 hours for items on the lawn, deliveries, and so forth. You are the security guard now. Once we are under contract to list the home for you, we become the eyes on the home every 48 hours. Until then, you can’t just lock it up and drive away.


Mistake Six: Not paying attention to the home’s details like water, trash, insurance and mail! The home must continue to be insured. It’s up to you to find the insurance paperwork, make the call that the homeowner has passed away and find out what the policy will cover on a vacant property, if it’s going to be vacant. Many policies won’t cover a vacant home after 60 days of death, so please ask. Pay the water bill, HOA dues, trash bill and check the mail. Have the mail forwarded to you if it’s OK with the courts.


Mistake Seven: Attempting to quickly sell the property without knowing the value, the local market or what you can really, really get for the property. You will be inundated with mail from house flippers, investors, those who watch the probate filings and real estate agents. They will call, email and drop by the house. My best advice to you is to tune them all out. Ignore them all until you have a thought about timing and value. We can of course assist you with the true value of a home throughout Southern California where we list property.


Our greatest advice to you about Mistake Seven is to avoid the quick sale to a “cash” buyer. They will never actually have cash. Most have a line of credit and that’s a loan. And none will pay you retail. We can absolutely get you full retail pricing on an as-is probate sale.


In summary, you may find one or two things within these “mistakes” that you’re encountering and we simply didn’t go into enough detail here to get you an answer. Please call or text Kimberly at 619-261-1909 for a more detailed look at your problem and a more thorough answer.

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