Through a month of Facebook postings – and a few blogs – we realized that if you looked at them all together, at once, we were really running a commentary about being an executor. It just seemed that every story either directly or indirectly pivoted around an executor’s duty to the estate.
One thing that comes through loud and clear – it can be onerous to be an executor (and, of course, an administrator appointed by the court when there is no will or named executor). It starts at the beginning, we’ve seen several instances where controversy revolves around who the deceased’s relatives are. You would think that this is a fairly easy part of an executor’s duties, identify the potential beneficiaries.
You would be wrong. It is not always clear, in the stories we’ve been running,who the beneficiaries may be. Not only is it not clear, competing groups of people may claim to be interested parties and be more than willing to press those claims with the probate court. The decision to hire an attorney to challenge a claim is potentially a costly one for the estate and one that can, of course, result in a loss in the amount of inheritance due the heirs. But, then, so can a decision to accept a claim that may not be as valid as it seems on face value.
It can be a Catch-22, and then some. As can litigation initiated by the executor on behalf of the estate. Claims to enforce contracts, business deals (remember Steely Dan?), real estate issues, even to pursue a wrongful death claim (as Prince’s estate appears about to do), are not black and white decisions for the executor. Litigation costs money and, as with any court matter, there is no guarantee of success. There’s also no telling how long the litigation will continue – we just posted a Facebook piece about the estate of James Brown, now in it’s eleventh year of probate, mostly due to multiple court cases.
Again, this is a tough spot for an executor. Initiating or defending a lawsuit is (sometimes) a judgement call. It always involves a cost, that cost is never not inconsiderable. It all becomes a balancing act between doing what’s best for the estate and conserving (or creating) assets for the beneficiaries.