Troublesome heirs: A guide for executors

When you agreed to be the executor of your friend’s or relative’s estate, you were prepared for the time, effort and energy that the job entails. You weren’t so prepared, however, for the heirs.

Whether they’re anxious about the dollar amounts involved in their inheritance or desperate to claim possession of some favored family heirlooms, troublesome heirs can make things very difficult for an executor.

How do you handle this kind of problem?

There’s no 100% drama-free solution when an heir is being problematic and pushy, but here are some tactics that can help:

  1. Inform all of the heirs about the timeline they can expect. Most people have no real idea how long probate can take, so simply explaining the timetable can help reduce an heir’s anxiety.
  2. Communicate with all the heirs at once. Whether you’re able to manage a group meeting or you choose to have a group email, you want to include all of the heirs in the conversation. That way, you can’t be accused of playing favorites or failing to keep one person informed.
  3. Make it clear that there will be no “jumping the line.” Let the heirs know that everything they value in the state — whether that’s personal possessions of the deceased or stock options — is being carefully inventoried and secured. Nothing gets distributed until the probate court gives permission. That may soothe some of their fears that something they are due will be snatched up by another person.
  4. Defer to a higher authority. Take the pressure off yourself by letting heirs know that you’re legally obligated to obey the probate court’s rules — and that the court or the judge allows no exceptions.

While the probate process can be complicated (even without difficult heirs), you can always rely on experienced legal guidance to help you through. No matter how aggressive or obstinate the heirs, you have a duty to the estate and the deceased.

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