Sarah was an out-of-state Executor of her parents’ estate, and when it came time to sell their Virginia home, she had a problem: Her three brothers lived together in the house and didn’t want to leave. They wouldn’t answer the door when realtors came to see the property. And some of her deceased parents’ belongings that were supposed to be sold as part of the estate had mysteriously disappeared.
Living in Michigan, Sarah couldn’t just drive over to the house to hash it out with her brothers. She had to take many flights to Virginia over the two-year-long probate process in order to take inventory, organize her parents’ assets, and arrange the sale of the property. She eventually called in a law firm to help convince her brothers to vacate the home.
Going through probate can be particularly costly and time-consuming for an out-of-state Executor. If you decide to accept (and you don’t have to!) we have some helpful advice to save you time and money.
When Can Out-of-State Executors Serve?
The rules vary, but all U.S. states allow for out-of-state Executors. Some have certain caveats, however.
- An out-of-state Executor may be required to be related to the decedent by blood, marriage or adoption.
- An in-state resident may need to be appointed to serve as an “agent” or Co-Executor to accept legal papers and deal with specific probate matters.
- Some states require out-of-state Executors to pay for a probate bond that will insure the beneficiaries in case of any negligent or intentional bad acts by the the Executor.
But it’s not typically the state or county rules that make living out of state most challenging. Law may only require an out-of-state Executor to show up once in person—usually to qualify as Executor by the probate clerk. But the more cumbersome part is dealing with the tangible property held in the estate, such as real estate, automobiles, collectibles and personal belongings.
An Executor’s duties include taking inventory of all assets including high-value property such as real estate, automobiles, antiques and jewelry—safeguarding all property to ensure it’s not damaged or stolen, and eventually selling it for the highest possible value once the probate court approves of the sale.
Sarah found it almost impossible to manage these duties as an out-of-state Executor, given the lack of cooperation and agreement among the beneficiaries. Dealing with the decedent’s financial institutions is also easier for those who live nearby.
Tips for Streamlining Long-Distance Probate
Though it can still be time-consuming, these tips can help out-of-state Executors streamline their time and costs.
- Enlist professional and/or personal help. A probate expert can help Executors understand and adhere to the state’s laws and procedures, while a local real estate agent can help navigate many of the logistics of appraising and selling property. A trusted friend or relative who lives near the decedent’s property can help with tasks like showing an automobile to prospective buyers.
- Plan any trips carefully. Maximize your time while in town. Schedule required in-person meetings in advance, and make a to-do list of everything that needs to be accomplished while you’re there.
- Stay organized. Being an out-of-state Executor demands a higher overall level of organization. You will probably be dealing with most people—including the probate office, financial institutions, real estate agents and creditors—by phone, mail or email. Keep all records in a designated paper or digital folder, and keep close communication with any professionals or trusted friends who are helping. At the end of the day, as Executor, you’re the only one on the hook for the legal responsibilities of probate.
Should You Accept, or Just Say No?
Given the potential extra hurdles of trying to settle an estate from afar, it may be best to politely decline being Executor if you live in another state. You can always offer your assistance without having to take on the full legal responsibilities of being an out-of-state Executor.