Use Caution When Choosing a Fiduciary

In Estate Planning by Coolidge Wall

A well-publicized case out of Summit County highlights the importance of choosing your fiduciary wisely. Former radio personality Howie Chizek died in June 2012, leaving an estate with an estimated value of $1.6 million. The executor for his estate was an attorney named Charles M. Morgan. In addition to filing important probate documents late, the executor failed to file Ohio estate taxes, allowing interest and penalties to accrue for months after the estate tax return should have been filed.

An executor has a number of important responsibilities, including, for example, filing inventories and other documents with the probate court in a timely and accurate manner, and making sure that the taxes and other debts of the estate are paid. Another very important responsibility of a fiduciary is to make sure that the assets in the estate are not wasted or damaged in the course of the administration. In this case, the executor forgot to winterize Mr. Chizek’s home. The resulting $118,000 in water damage due to bursting pipes was deemed by the Summit County Probate Court to be the result of the fiduciary’s negligence.

This case highlights the importance of choosing your fiduciary wisely. It is not clear how Mr. Morgan came to be Mr. Chizek’s executor, whether he was appointed by the court or named in the will. The probate court ultimately removed Mr. Morgan as executor and appointed another attorney with estate administration experience. Unfortunately, the estate had already been considerably damaged before the court intervened. Don’t let this happen to you. Pick a fiduciary who will take their responsibilities seriously and who will seek the assistance of competent legal counsel as needed.

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