Executors often ask me why it takes so long to settle an estate. Well, that’s an easy one: Firstly, Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) takes forever regarding each of the various tax submissions and, secondly, family dynamics. Who’s going to come out of the woodwork and drive us crazy?The Roles of an Executor of Estate – Mom Blog Society offers excellent info on this.
One of the worst combinations I can think of is where there are two siblings who are co-executors, who can’t stand each other. Mom didn’t want to offend either one, so she made them both executors. Now, not only do those 2 people have to communicate with each other frequently, they have to agree on everything! And there needs to be a certain level of trust, too, which can be a stretch when memories of a childhood argument keep running through your head.
Executors always want to know how much it will cost to hire us and how long it will take to complete the estate, but since our fee is based on the level of effort required (not the value of the assets), we cannot answer these questions until we learn about the characteristics of the estate and learn about the family dynamics. Will there be procrastination as a result of what other family members may think or say? Will we need to be the communicator between the two co-executors? Does one beneficiary feel they are entitled to a bigger share of the estate? Perhaps they spent more time caring for mom or dad.
A common scenario is where one beneficiary lived close to dad, while the other(s) lived on the other side of the country. Since the local person was most likely a caregiver to dad, should both beneficiaries receive an equal share of the estate? Maybe. Each family is different. It’s possible that the local beneficiary/caregiver really does deserve more, but his brother disagrees, saying Dad gave you money toward your house purchase, so you can’t expect more from the estate. Sometimes you just don’t see these arguments coming until they’re said out loud. A related scenario is where the will leaves more to one son than the other son, but there is no apparent reason and no explanation is provided in the will. This can easily flare up.
“You haven’t repaid the $5000 Mom loaned to you two years ago, so you owe that money to the estate!” Can you guess what happens next? That’s right, there’s no paperwork supporting this loan, so it’s one person’s word against the other. Was it a loan or a gift? Is interest being charged? I hope those people are on good speaking terms because this will need to be resolved right away.
Blended families are very common. A woman dies, leaving a husband and 2 kids. The surviving husband re-marries and then dies a few years later, leaving his 2 kids and his 2nd wife. The house and bank account make up the majority of the estate, both of which are owned jointly between the man and his 2nd wife, so very little is left for the 2 kids. This has the potential of going very badly.
Sometimes family dynamics have less to do with the estate, and more to do with the executor’s immediate family. Perhaps the executor has marital issues, or someone in the family has a serious illness, or there are educational/school issues regarding the kids. These facts of life can impact your ability to focus on the estate, which in turn can cause issues with the (extended) family related to the estate.
Gregg Medwid is the president and founder of Executor Support, a firm based in Coquitlam, British Columbia, with expertise assisting executors and administrators in settling estates. The project management expertise and customer service focus Medwid brings to Executor Support ensures questions are answered and help is given when it is most needed.