There’s an old saying that “weddings and funerals bring out the best and the worst in people.” As the executor of someone’s estate, you may (unfortunately) find out exactly how true part of that saying really can be.
Disputes with an estate’s heirs can be one of the most problematic issues an executor can face. When things get tense, an estate can quickly end up in litigation — and that means more work and more headaches for you.
What can you do to minimize problems with the heirs?
Sometimes, an heir is simply unhappy with the deceased’s will and conflict is inevitable. However, you can often minimize problems with a few simple steps:
- Promptly secure the estate. This is part of your job, but you should also be vocal about the process to the heirs. Let them know that nobody will be allowed to take keepsakes, family heirlooms or other valuables until the appropriate time. That can ease concerns that one or more of the heirs might “help themselves” to things that belong to others.
- Explain the probate process. Sit the heirs down and let them know what has to happen before the estate is settled and their inheritance is distributed. Explain that accounts must be closed, debts must be paid, taxes have to be filed, assets must be appraised and the court needs to sign off on the probate before they will get their inheritances. This can help demystify the process and allow them to manage their expectations.
- Get an attorney involved. Handling someone’s estate is a big job, so it’s often wisest to have legal assistance along the way. This is especially crucial if you believe there will be problems with one or more heirs. They may be more inclined to defer to an attorney’s authority than yours as the executor.
Ultimately, you may not be able to mollify everyone. If you end up in a dispute over an estate, make sure that you get immediate legal assistance.