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Advice for a first-time estate executor?
Old 01-24-2009, 01:14 AM   #1
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Advice for a first-time estate executor?

Sadly, my husband is about to become a first-time estate executor, as his dad passed away unexpectedly and suddenly this week.

We're in the process of collecting and gathering his dad's financial information, figuring out what he had and where it was. I'm wondering if anyone here has advice to give about practical things to do in the first couple of weeks after someone passes away.

I particularly liked Want2Retire's post about advice for executors, but it'll come in handy as probate for the estate begins. I'm looking for more ideas for smoothing the pre-probate process.

I'm especially curious if anyone has had experience with settling a multi-country estate, as my FIL was married to a non-US-national and lived in South America. So he has assets in both the US and his country of abode.

We are fortunate to have a competent and trusted CPA, and I'm working on finding us a probate attorney with international experience, should we need it.

Thanks in advance for any advice.
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Old 01-24-2009, 01:53 AM   #2
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I'm sorry for your husband's (and your) loss. We've been through too much of this recently, with 3 parental deaths since 2001.

I have no executor advice for you, that was all handled by DW and the lawyers on her side, and there was no money on my side. I do know from when my brother died that getting a death certificate and collecting insurance money as quickly as possible can help tide you over in case there are expenses before the estate is pulled together. Also, get a lot of death certificates right up front, a dozen or 20 right off the bat. Every company or dept. you deal with will need one.

Other than that, just don't make any big moves right away. Some people throw themselves into the executor job as a way to help distract themselves from grieving, but that doesn't tend to be a good thing in the long run. Try to help him and other family members deal with the immediate emotional issues, and know that the estate stuff can wait.

Good luck, and my prayers are with y'all.
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Old 01-24-2009, 03:50 AM   #3
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Dont expect this to be all over anytime soon,My FIL passed away in March 07 and there is still paperwork needing to be done,mostly to do with settling the govmnts need to get every last dime they can in the form of taxes.
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Old 01-24-2009, 09:44 AM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Urchina View Post
I'm especially curious if anyone has had experience with settling a multi-country estate, as my FIL was married to a non-US-national and lived in South America. So he has assets in both the US and his country of abode.
Been there done that, but the will was simple, and the countries involved were all English speaking with legal systems based on Common Law. Your DH's situation may be more complex. My advice would be not to rush things. Treat it like a project and make a workplan. Grieve first, get death certificates, get informed, and find a reliable and organized lawyer in FIL's country. Negotiate the lawyer's fee upfront and get it in writing. Call around to find out what the cost structure is, eg. flat fee or percentage of the estate. There will be tasks you will need to delegate to the lawyer, like attending probate court at short notice. Be prepared for inexplicable delays and repeated requests for additional documents, signatures and photocopies. That's when you will have to be on top of things and a lawyer in your home country may help with troubleshooting. Keep in touch regularly to keep things moving, and keep it in writing. For example, if you have a phone conversation with the lawyer, take minutes and send the lawyer a copy. Finally, if there is family conflict, remember that the executor's job is to "execute" FIL's will, not to do what they want you to do.
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Old 01-24-2009, 10:23 AM   #5
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I just did a simple estate, which was my mother. I needed original 10 death certificates, you may need more.
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Old 01-25-2009, 06:42 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by Meadbh View Post
...Finally, if there is family conflict, remember that the executor's job is to "execute" FIL's will, not to do what they want you to do.
Excellent point! This does happen, I suspect more so than not.
Been there, done that as an Alternate Executor for my mom's will. The Executor, a brother, started making funny noises about not agreeing with unequal distributions to siblings in her will. It was my job as Alt Exec to make sure the will was executed AS WRITTEN.
If things get ticklish, a letter on an attorney's letterhead has an amazing dampening effect on any "creative interpretations".
I am very sorry for your loss, and also agree that some time can pass before DH and you need to tackle this.
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Old 01-25-2009, 06:56 PM   #7
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Old 01-25-2009, 07:07 PM   #8
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Old 01-25-2009, 10:23 PM   #9
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Disclaimer: This happened in Canada and may not apply to US.

Mother died in 1990 and me and DB were executors. Talked to the lawyer who wrote her will about costs to handle the estate. He pointed to 'law society schedule of rates'" that suggested 2% of estate. Estate was about 1M mostly real estate with named heirs. In other words, $20K to transfer title. We got mad and I eventually handled all of it, including drafting a 'petition for probate'. Probably spent 100 hours (mostly learning) and was lucky that the heirs got along. Total time to clear, less than 1 year. Total legal cost $25.

FIL found out I did this and since he had name a Trust Company as executor he looked at fees. In his case they would total about $70K. Once again I was executor. BIL was co. This time, we used a lawyer friend to help, he agreed to an hourly figure that was reasonable. His office lost the 'executed will'. He got us through probate with a copy largely because the two heirs agreed that it was a true copy. Never billed us, probably embarassed. We did the rest. Cleared in about 14 months. Total legal cost $0 (but would have been maybe $200).

BIL died almost two years ago. I'm co with his accountant. Lawyer used. Almost 2 years have passed, $18K in fees (and would be much higher if I hadn't been rather forcefull about them). Estate not fully dealt with.

Your situation is much different. I'd offer this advice:
  • Get competent legal advise in the other country (and possibly US).
  • Don't be afraid to threaten to go elsewhere bargain.
  • Be prepared to be blunt with heirs. Testator writes will, you follow instructions.
  • Don't expect it to be over soon.

Good luck
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Old 01-26-2009, 11:04 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kumquat View Post
Disclaimer: This happened in Canada and may not apply to US.

Mother died in 1990 and me and DB were executors. Talked to the lawyer who wrote her will about costs to handle the estate. He pointed to 'law society schedule of rates'" that suggested 2% of estate. Estate was about 1M mostly real estate with named heirs. In other words, $20K to transfer title. We got mad and I eventually handled all of it, including drafting a 'petition for probate'. Probably spent 100 hours (mostly learning) and was lucky that the heirs got along. Total time to clear, less than 1 year. Total legal cost $25.

FIL found out I did this and since he had name a Trust Company as executor he looked at fees. In his case they would total about $70K. Once again I was executor. BIL was co. This time, we used a lawyer friend to help, he agreed to an hourly figure that was reasonable. His office lost the 'executed will'. He got us through probate with a copy largely because the two heirs agreed that it was a true copy. Never billed us, probably embarassed. We did the rest. Cleared in about 14 months. Total legal cost $0 (but would have been maybe $200).

BIL died almost two years ago. I'm co with his accountant. Lawyer used. Almost 2 years have passed, $18K in fees (and would be much higher if I hadn't been rather forcefull about them). Estate not fully dealt with.

Your situation is much different. I'd offer this advice:
  • Get competent legal advise in the other country (and possibly US).
  • Don't be afraid to threaten to go elsewhere bargain.
  • Be prepared to be blunt with heirs. Testator writes will, you follow instructions.
  • Don't expect it to be over soon.

Good luck
Many if not most states bar lawyers from charging based on a percentage of the estate. For example, in Minnesota and Wisconsin fees are hourly and have to be approved by the court. I recently read a local court decision where a lawyer charged for all sorts of work that could have easily been done by a the executor or another non-professional. The court whacked his fees royally.

I do know Florida used to, and may still, allow lawyers to charge a percentage of the estate for a probate. Plus, probate is a long a difficult procedure in Florida. That is why my FIL, even though he did not have a lot of assets, set up a trust.

Because estate planning and probate is so locality dependent it is impossible to make any general recommendations about what to do other than educate yourself on your locality.
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Old 01-26-2009, 06:40 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kumquat View Post
Disclaimer: This happened in Canada and may not apply to US.

Mother died in 1990 and me and DB were executors. Talked to the lawyer who wrote her will about costs to handle the estate. He pointed to 'law society schedule of rates'" that suggested 2% of estate. Estate was about 1M mostly real estate with named heirs. In other words, $20K to transfer title. We got mad and I eventually handled all of it, including drafting a 'petition for probate'. Probably spent 100 hours (mostly learning) and was lucky that the heirs got along. Total time to clear, less than 1 year. Total legal cost $25.

FIL found out I did this and since he had name a Trust Company as executor he looked at fees. In his case they would total about $70K. Once again I was executor. BIL was co. This time, we used a lawyer friend to help, he agreed to an hourly figure that was reasonable. His office lost the 'executed will'. He got us through probate with a copy largely because the two heirs agreed that it was a true copy. Never billed us, probably embarassed. We did the rest. Cleared in about 14 months. Total legal cost $0 (but would have been maybe $200).

BIL died almost two years ago. I'm co with his accountant. Lawyer used. Almost 2 years have passed, $18K in fees (and would be much higher if I hadn't been rather forcefull about them). Estate not fully dealt with.

Your situation is much different. I'd offer this advice:
  • Get competent legal advise in the other country (and possibly US).
  • Don't be afraid to threaten to go elsewhere bargain.
  • Be prepared to be blunt with heirs. Testator writes will, you follow instructions.
  • Don't expect it to be over soon.
Good luck


Quote:
Originally Posted by Martha View Post
Many if not most states bar lawyers from charging based on a percentage of the estate. For example, in Minnesota and Wisconsin fees are hourly and have to be approved by the court. I recently read a local court decision where a lawyer charged for all sorts of work that could have easily been done by a the executor or another non-professional. The court whacked his fees royally.

I do know Florida used to, and may still, allow lawyers to charge a percentage of the estate for a probate. Plus, probate is a long a difficult procedure in Florida. That is why my FIL, even though he did not have a lot of assets, set up a trust.

Because estate planning and probate is so locality dependent it is impossible to make any general recommendations about what to do other than educate yourself on your locality.
Martha, the OP did say it was an international estate. I had an experience very similar to kumquat's with an international estate. I did need the lawyer involved because I needed someone to attend probate court when I was far away; billing a percentage of the estate was the rule, not the exception (and I think it was quite similar); I got a lawyer friend to advise me what the work was really worth, and then we negotiated a fee. Not $0 or $25, but reasonable. That particular lawyer was known for dragging it out, but we got probate in 3 weeks. With a little project management, I might add!
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Old 01-26-2009, 09:49 PM   #12
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Thanks for the advice so far. DH has requested a bundle of death certificates from the State Department and we'll get them in 2 weeks or so, so we can't even start the process until then.

We're in California, which does allow percentages of estates by statute as follows (just FYI): 4% of estate for first $100K, 3% of estate for next $100k, and 2% of estate for next $800K above the first 200K. So for a $250K estate, the fees will come to $8,000. The lawyer and the executor BOTH get these fees, so the total fees for an estate with an attorney and executor, for a $250K estate, is $16,000. Then there's filing fees, referee fees (if property has to be assessed), etc. So it's a bundle.

We have found two competent attorneys; one charges hourly and one charges the statutory fee. I think it will come down to who DH is more comfortable with.

So, onward...
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