Family fighting over inheritance.

How to deal with family members when you are the executor or administrator of an estate

By Byron Batres, Founder of EZ-Probate

When I look back on my experience as an executor for my wife’s grandmother’s estate, there’s only one thing I wish I had done differently. I think the experience would’ve gone a lot more smoothly if I’d made an honest assessment of the emotional and mental health of the family members (beneficiaries) I was interacting with to avoid an estate dispute between siblings.

When a prominent patriarch or matriarch passes, many families have difficult finding their bearings, and our family was no different. Unresolved family (often childhood) issues come rapidly to the surface and can have a big impact on how family members relate to each other.

And because family members are often chosen to be executors or trustees, they will find themselves in the middle of family fighting over inheritance.

I would advise all executors and trustees to look for these warning signs:


3 Red flags to watch out for

Money Problems

Are any beneficiaries struggling financially? If the answer is yes, then take extra precautions and document everything. They will likely push for the fastest payout for themselves.

Make sure you are following the will or trust instructions to the letter. You can never be at fault for following exactly what the documents compel you to do. Think twice about making accommodations that aren’t specified in the will or trust. 

Substance Abuser

If any of the beneficiaries are battling substance abuse, fight the urge to help them through the probate process.  It may come back to haunt you. Follow the instructions to the letter, and make no accommodations for them.

Communicate only via official channels (letters, emails) and keep copies of everything. Anticipate that their ability to comprehend and deal with reality may be altered. I learned the hard way.

Mental Health Issues

Mental health issues can be tricky because you may not always be aware that an issue exists. They can be masked or combined with a substance abuse problem. If severe issues are apparent, try to locate a guardian or other competent person that can help or act on their behalf.

If there are instances where special consideration should be made, write it out and have the beneficiaries acknowledge. Never rely only on verbal communications.

My biggest advice is simple: trust your instincts and document everything. Your intimate knowledge of the family will be very helpful and can help avoid an estate dispute between siblings when you are the executor.

Still have questions? Feel free to schedule a free consultation to speak with our expert team.