When you first accepted the role of executor, you were probably more focused on the honor of being named rather than on what those responsibilities were to entail. On some level, you were the family mensch, the go-to person who will make things right. And in the past, you’ve always managed to resolve difficult issues for yourself and others, but you should know this is different.
This article addresses one of the more stressful situations where there is a widow, a grandmother who has been declared legally incompetent and is now dependent on you.
Your tasks will be complicated and unfamiliar. Settling an estate necessarily means stepping into many subcultures — legal, medical, even the flea market subculture. Each of these groups have their own set of players following their own rules.
Finding suitable living arrangements for your parent. When there is a surviving spouse, this is often a very urgent need and usually one of the first issues to be addressed. If you don’t get it done, it may mean mom will be sleeping in your bed and you’re on the couch. The next morning, you’ll be brushing your teeth in the downstairs half-bath while trying to get to your paying job by 9:00 am looking professional. It pushes many people to the breaking point.
Poor records, fraudulent creditors. It is the rare estate where every financial obligation is disclosed and documented completely. It will take some detective work to ascertain where all the assets and liabilities are for an estate. And some of your parents’ shadier creditors know that. They often assert the estate owes more money than they actually do.
Scattered and/or hidden financial assets. When you consider all the decades your parents lived through, they probably had both financially optimistic and pessimistic periods, that may have led them to squirrel away assets that are hard to find.
Technology laggards – attorneys, courts, medical, insurance companies, banks often refuse to use email or text. Many of the people you will be dealing with refuse to use communication methods that have been standard practice since 1995 for the rest of us. This may be caused by laziness. Possibly they want the plausible deniability that electronic records eliminate. You will have many frustrating moments where the representative you talk to tells you, “No, we cannot accept email correspondence.” Why not? “It’s our policy.” You won’t be able to make them change their infuriating policies, and you will suffer. If you’re lucky they may have a fax, which means you’ll have to take your documents to your local Staples since many homes don’t even have phone lines anymore.
Working for free. At some point, it will occur to you that this 40+ hour per week job you’re doing is being done without compensation. In fact, it is inhibiting your ability to earn a living wage … and may even be diminishing the value in the marketplace.
Managing three+ families. Welcome to the sandwich generation, those folks who are trying to care for their children as well as their parents, let alone their own lives. You may have difficulty managing your parent’s life, pay attention to your own kids, and keep your own life on track. The experts all say to set boundaries, but that’s often a give-and-take process that can be bruising.
Parents frequently require more aggressive health care. Often elders take a dozen or so pills to stay healthy and keeping up with their pharmaceuticals can be a challenge. Old age also brings with it a lot of pain from ailments like arthritis, memory loss, and sciatica. These all need to be managed. Hearing loss isolates them, and you may find yourself yelling at them just to be heard. And very often they are seeing several different physicians several times a month, and what used to be an annual drive from their country home is now a weekly drive, consuming most of the day.
Subject to court stricture. For those of you innocents who haven’t worked with our court systems lately, be prepared to be treated with suspicion. Many if not most of their procedures are set up to stop criminals from stealing from the estate in some way or another, and they will assume you are one of the bad guys.
99% of the people we work with are honest, just trying to get through this situation the best they can, but that’s not how you will be viewed by the system. They have seen all the cases of abuse, of theft. The burden of proof will be on you to prove you are a decent person. It can be insulting if you let it get under your skin.
Managing estate money … often frozen at time of death. One of the quaint ways the law attempts to prevent theft is to freeze the deceased’s bank assets at time of death if proper arrangements weren’t made beforehand. You then will be tasked with getting the assets unfrozen, something not taught in school. There are attorneys who will do that for you, usually without asking for money up front for their services, but not always. Meanwhile the creditor calls and letters will be coming in.
Family in-fighting. This is one of the ugliest parts of the process. Family members that always seemed so nice during the holidays may become predatory. Many people are surprised how much peace Dad had kept in the family, but now that the patriarch is gone, decorum crumbles. We estimate that about half of all families have significant familial in-fighting issues and that about one-third of the time, parts of the family become estranged.
Unrealistic valuation of assets. What the public will pay for a use household item is often well below what the individual values it at. These mismatches may be caused by sentimental reasons, technology advances, or lack of understanding of the market.
Also, it costs money to sell used possessions, and often those costs exceed the market value of the item. For example, handling costs to sell an item may come to $50. That’s what it costs to advertise an item, negotiate its sale, accept payment, and arrange pickup or delivery. If the item sells for $200, that’s probably worth it. If it sells for $20, you’ve just paid a $30 to essentially dispose of the item.
Out of town siblings. This all is significantly more challenging when parts of the family live far away from the parent’s home. The cost of settling estates now include the price of airline tickets, hotels and time off from work. Although sometimes this is a blessing if there is a clear delegation process, and being out of town actually reduces the distractions.
These are some of the larger issues that are so common in these situations. As you can ascertain, there are challenges across the board that will challenge you for a longer period of time than you may have expected.
It is often very tough on the executor as well as the entire family. Our parting advice is to help some help. Don’t try to shoulder this all by yourself.
About Operation Relo
An Ohio based LLC founded in 2018, Operation Relo provides a comprehensive set of services for families with elders who may need to downsize, especially when the children are out of town. The company develops and executes elderhood plans addressing POA, medical, financial, executorial, and lifestyle coaching issues; preparing homes for sale with repairs and staging; relocating possessions through estate sales, storage, donations and disposal; clearing and cleaning the house; and conducting senior moves. Contact us at (877) 678 – RELO (7356), [email protected] and www.operationrelo.com