The following is a guest post by Chris Birk of SuretyBonds.com, which also publishes the Surety Bond Insider:
If your list of New Year’s resolutions seems thin, look no further than your estate plan — and make sure you’ve included a waiver of bond for the executor.
Probate bonds can prove a costly headache. Without a will that explicitly waives the need for a probate bond, courts have no choice but to mandate their purchase unless the heirs formally agree that a bond is unnecessary. And even then the court may still deem a probate bond necessary to ensure the estate and its assets are protected and debts are paid.
The absence of a bond waiver ensures that the executor is likely to spend time and money negotiating a financial and legal hurdle in a process that already has its fair share.
Surety companies will also examine the financial and credit history of the executor before issuing a bond. Make no mistake — there’s an underwriting process for these bonds, just like any other risk-management mechanism. There are cases where an executor has failed to qualify for a bond, triggering a new series of legal maneuvers involving the surety company.
The cost of a probate bond depends on the value of the estate and its unsecured debts. For estates valued at more than $1 million, bond premiums could easily run about $2,000 per year depending upon the location.
While the estate can pay for bond costs, think of it more as a reimbursement — you can’t access the estate funds until probate is complete. And sureties won’t issue bonds with an I.O.U. In addition to upfront costs, executors (and administrators) are on the hook for renewals and premiums each year.
These costs and potential aggravations can slow the probate process. They’re also a recipe for confusion and, in many instances, unnecessary expense.
With the new year underway, now is a great time to revisit your estate plan and thoughtfully consider including a bond waiver.