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Anxious heirs, sticky fingers and estate administration

On Behalf of | Feb 25, 2023 | Estate Administration And Probate |

You’ve been named the executor of someone’s estate, and you feel honored to be trusted with the position. You fully understood what the job entails – or, at least, you thought you did – right until a few of the heirs expressed their anxiety about a few personal mementos they’re expecting out of the estate.

Maybe, for example, your nephew was always told that they’re to receive your brother’s prize pearl-handled pistols and your great-niece believes that grandma’s ring is hers. Both of them are worried that if they don’t get those items in their possession before the other relatives come around that someone with “sticky fingers” and a big sense of entitlement will cause everything to vanish. What do you do? Here’s what you need to consider.

It’s your job to secure the estate’s property

As the executor, you have a fiduciary duty to the estate and its heirs. That puts you firmly in charge of what happens – and it also makes you legally responsible for anything that goes missing from the estate.

Until the estate has been properly probated and the deceased’s remaining debts have been paid, nothing from the estate is supposed to be distributed. In practical terms, a wise executor should take reasonable measures to make sure that everything belonging to the estate is secured until the time for distribution comes.

That means doing things like:

  • Changing the locks on the deceased’s home and making sure that things like the keycode to the garage are updated and all entrances are locked.
  • Gathering up any small valuables that may be designated for specific people and making sure that they are safely kept until they can be legally distributed.
  • Making sure that the deceased’s car, boat and any other vehicles are locked away (which may require the use of anti-theft devices if you can’t find all the keys).

The reality is that the heirs may not be happy if they have to wait to get their hands on sentimental items and family heirlooms, but explaining how the probate process works and what you’re doing to make sure that nobody else takes what’s due them may help ease their fears.