Keeping the Peace When Estate Conflicts Arise

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If you have been named Executor in one or both of your parents’ will(s), there are probably a multitude of reasons why you were selected for the duty. Undoubtedly, your parents (and likely the rest of your family) recognized that you possess certain personality traits that make you an ideal candidate for the job. Most people name executors who exhibit the following qualities:

Honesty
Resourcefulness
Book smarts
Responsibility
Reliability
Solid organizational skills
Confidence
Control
Ability to be impartial
Fairness
Authenticity
Loyalty
Safety
Trustworthiness
Sound-mindedness

Naturally, when establishing an estate plan, every decision is taken very seriously, especially when it comes to appointing the executor. If conflicts arise after their passing, the decedent can rest peacefully knowing that you were left in charge of their estate.

Unfortunately, there are entirely too many cases that make their way through the NJ probate system wherein at least one of the beneficiaries (heirs) is unhappy with all or part of the details of the will. This understandably can lead to irreparable damage within a family. Because you are the chosen executor, you must now live up to your reputation that got you the job.

As negotiation may be one of your natural instincts, you may make attempts to reason with the disagreeable beneficiary, hoping that they will come to their senses. However, as these issues tend to date back to unresolved feelings of “favoritism” or other familial conflict, it can often be next to impossible to talk sense into your sibling, especially when emotions are already running high so soon after the death of a parent.

Your best plan of action as estate executor is to follow your legal duties to the letter of the law. Become as familiar as possible with what is expected of you as executor. If your parent worked with an estate planning attorney when they established their will, get in touch with that attorney and bring him up to speed on the current difficulties you are facing.

Even if your parent(s) didn’t work directly with a New Jersey estate planning lawyer, it’s a good idea to reach out to one early in the probate process if it looks like you’ll be dealing with ongoing conflict from one or more of the heirs. As executor, you’ll be able to use funds from the estate to pay the legal fees you incur on behalf of the estate (assuming that the decedent possessed sufficient funds/assets when they passed away.) Even if you don’t retain the services of an attorney immediately, it’s in your best interest to bring your attorney up to speed in case you need to retain him later on in the probate process.

The best way to approach an estate conflict as executor is to be kind but firm to the beneficiary who is being difficult. Resist bending any rules and instead remind them about the laws and timelines that surround the distribution of any assets.

By sticking strictly to your duties as estate executor, you will fulfill the duty that you were so chosen for. It is extremely difficult to satisfy someone who feels they’ve been “wronged” by a decedent, as the deceased is no longer around to explain him or herself. If someone is unhappy with the content of the will, they may take issue with your every move. Stay within the law, and refer to your attorney for help if the disgruntled beneficiary becomes more than you can handle.

Image credit: Hans Vandenberg

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