Troubleshooting Legal Problems

How do executors handle “problem” heirs?

As the executor of a loved one’s estate you understand that it’s your duty to secure their assets, handle the probate process and all that entails – but you didn’t count on having so many problems with the heirs.

The loss of a loved one can trigger a lot of strong emotions and expose some complicated family dynamics, and a poor executor can easily get caught in the middle of opposing forces.

You may find that there’s a lot of pressure on you to pass out a few personal mementos that “won’t be missed” or “were promised” to someone ages ago. Or, you may be getting harassed by a suspicious heir who believes that you’re somehow showing favoritism or are maybe lining your own pockets at their expense.

How do you handle this? Here are some tips:

  1. Explain how the estate process actually works.

There’s every possibility that some of the problems you have with the heirs is borne of a lack of understanding about what is supposed to happen. Some of the heirs may think that you have total control over the process, and they don’t understand that you have legal and fiduciary obligations that you’re required to uphold.

An explanation of the probate process and a promise to regularly communicate with them at each stage may ease their concerns.

  1. Ask about items of sentimental value.

Let all of the heirs know that you will not be distributing any items of monetary value until you’re at the proper stage of the process. If any of the heirs have purely sentimental attachments to something, however, they can let you know (in writing) what it is.

That gives the heirs a chance to voice their concerns and “stake a claim” over something important – and it gives you time to see if there are any conflicting requests and decide how to handle them.

  1. Put a buffer between you and the heirs.

Often, the wisest thing you can do is to get legal guidance with the probate process. Not only does the involvement of an attorney tend to reassure an estate’s heirs that everything is being done properly, it can put a buffer in place that will keep the heirs from applying too much pressure.