Q&A: An executor's liability for errors

September 19, 2008

My brother asked me to be the executor of his estate. Could I be personally liable if I accidentally do something wrong?

Q: My brother, who's 15 years older than me, asked me to be the executor of his estate. I'm leery, because his ex-wife is quick to cause trouble when she's displeased. Could I be held personally liable if I accidentally did something wrong?

A: You could find yourself responsible for any missteps that cost the estate money, including failing to file tax returns on time or pay any tax that's due. Another common mistake is letting property insurance expire. If the property then gets damaged or destroyed before you've closed out the estate, you could wind up owing the beneficiaries for the loss. To protect yourself, enlist an attorney's help and document your actions in case you need to defend them later. Another idea is to keep in close touch with the beneficiaries so they know what's happening. Sometimes, that's enough to head off complaints.