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

When I look back on my experience as an executor there is only one thing I wish I had done differently…. Making an honest assessment on the emotional and mental health of the family members (beneficiaries) I had to deal with.

If you haven’t figured out already, often when the patriarch/matriarch passes the family unravels. Unresolved family (often childhood) issues come rapidly to the surface and can make a big impact on how family relates to each other.

As family members are often chosen to be executors/trustees they will be immediately in the middle of these family disputes. I would advise all executors/trustees to look for these warning signs:

3 Red flags to watch out for

  1. Money Problems - Are any beneficiaries hard up for money? If yes take extra precaution and document everything. Odds are they will consistently look for the fastest payout for themselves. Make sure you are following to the letter the will/trust instructions. You can never be at fault for following exactly what the documents compel you to do. Fight the urge to “help” anybody, and think twice in making any accommodations to anybody.
  2. Substance Abuser - Don’t even try to “help”, it will definitely come back and haunt you. Follow to the letter the instructions, 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 is severely altered. I learned the hard way.
  3. Mental Health Issues - This one is tricky as sometimes any mental health issues are not apparent and or masked or combined with the above. If severe issues are apparent look to see if there is a guardian or other competent person that can help or act on their behalf.

My biggest advice is real simple, trust your instincts and document everything. There will be times that your intimate knowledge of the family will be very helpful. If there are instances that some special consideration should be made, write it out and have the beneficiaries acknowledge. Don’t go only on verbal communications.

Hope this helps and feel free to contact us with any questions.