At The Jacobson Law Firm, we do a lot of probate work, and though many executors prefer to handle the estate administration themselves after getting the court’s authority through “letters testamentary”, we often help guide the executor through the process of administering the estate, and this includes a detailed description of the executor’s duties. In a recent case, the executor was assisting the widow in getting her bank accounts balanced, and in the midst of the process, came upon an automatic debit from an account that nobody in the family could account for (so to speak). On doing a bit of research, the executor discovered that the debit was for insurance premiums on an accidental death policy the decedent, a few months before his death, had taken out on himself. No one in the family had been aware of this policy. So, since the cause of death was listed as “complications of subdural hemorrhage from a fall”, and after discussion with the family, the executor contacted the insurance company to see about filing a claim for accidental death. Long story short: after receiving the claim and some medical records, the insurance company, without arguing, paid the widow a completely unexpected $153,000.00.
This story has two morals: 1) that if you’re serving as executor or administrator of the estate of someone who has died, it’s critical to go over ALL the financial papers to ensure both you and the survivors understand the state of the decedent’s affairs, and 2) that sometimes the executor can help the family even if the asset doesn’t pass under the will. You see, insurance proceeds don’t generally pass through the estate unless the estate is listed as the beneficiary. If the executor had seen “insurance” and ignored the automatic debit, assuming this didn’t concern his duties to the estate, the widow might have lost the opportunity to recover under the insurance policy.
If you find yourself in the position of serving as executor under a will, please talk with an experienced probate attorney. The person who appointed you trusted that you would care for his or her surviving family - take the responsibility seriously and exercise it thoroughly and humbly.
As always, the above is legal information based on Texas law because I’m a Texas lawyer. It’s not legal advice, and you should consult an attorney with experience in your particular problem area before taking any action.
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