Handle an Estate’s Heirs, Legatees, and Beneficiaries Wisely
3 of 7 in Series: The Essentials of Avoiding Common Trust and Estate Mistakes
As the executor of an estate, interact with the estate’s heirs, legatees, and beneficiaries wisely and with care. Be sure to divide the estate’s personal property fairly among the heirs. Also be sure to communicate with the estate’s heirs, legatees, and beneficiaries. Good communication with the heirs can avoid complications with the estate probate process.
Divide the estate’s personal property fairly
Dividing up the decedent’s personal property among the heirs has great potential for alienating family members.
Sometimes, the decedent leaves specific instructions about who is to receive what property. Such instructions are usually kept with the Last Will but are typically not part of it. If the decedent failed to leave instructions regarding who was to receive what, your job as executor is to keep the situation under control.
Keep the following do’s and don’ts in mind:
Don’t allow anyone into the decedent’s residence unsupervised. After carpets, trinkets, and furniture are loaded into the back of someone’s van, they’re almost impossible to recover.
Do change the locks. Do it whether or not you suspect someone may make a casual visit in the middle of the night. It’s just a good idea.
The most equitable way to distribute personal property among the heirs is to use multicolored flea market stickers, easily purchased at any discount or stationery store. Give each heir one color and have him or her take turns (oldest to youngest, youngest to oldest, or in an order determined by choosing random numbers) tagging one item at a time.
By the time you finish, you’ll discover that you’re either surrounded by a rainbow of tags or that people mostly just want one or two remembrances. You can sell the rest or give it to charity.
Communicate with the heirs, legatees, and beneficiaries
Being a trustee or executor isn’t cloak-and-dagger stuff, and the heirs, legatees (individuals left specific property under the will), and beneficiaries on whose behalf you’re working aren’t enemy agents.
Keep heirs, legatees, and beneficiaries in the loop as much as you can. By letting them know on a regular basis where you are in the process and when they can realistically expect a payment from the estate, you’re stopping most, if not all, of their complaints before they have a chance to even think of them.
You can’t please all the heirs all the time, especially those who are upset that they weren’t named executor. Be especially responsive to their concerns: The estate process is under the probate court’s supervision. Therefore, an heir who complains to the judge only creates more work for you because you now have to respond to the judge’s questions as well.