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Estate Settlement Pains
Old 08-10-2008, 05:03 AM   #1
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Estate Settlement Pains

As some of you know, my Mother passed away after a long illness... about 5 years.

I have several siblings. A couple of us pitched in and cared for her and some did not... about half and half.

The sibilings that helped mother the least are the most disruptive and demanding in the settlement of the estate. They are fighting over trivial issues. To be clear those who did nothing are fighting with those that did little.

To add insult to injury there would be no estate if the siblings that cared for mother had not done so... because her money would have been spent for in-home care or nursing home (very expensive).

Can't we all get along?
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Old 08-10-2008, 06:34 AM   #2
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chinaco.. what a sad story. I'm sorry for your loss and the prolonged squabbling must only make it more painful.

Depending on how 'trivial' the slackers' demands are.. it might be best to just give in and get it over with, as long as it is consonant with your mother's legally stated wishes. Make known how you feel, but then put it behind you. If it would make you feel better, you could draw up an accounting of the value of the services the carers provided, but don't expect that to alter the slackers' view.

They've already shown what stuff they are made of, and you can only feel sorry for people who act in such a low manner. You'll be better off taking the high road even if they "get" more in the end; you can't buy character or being a person of principle with money or things.

If, in your clarification, you mean that no one's fighting with the carers, it's all amongst the relative slackers.. then all you can do is sit on the sidelines, or at most try to kindly point out how destructive and painful this is for the whole family, without taking 'sides' in whatever their beef is. Tell them to split it down the middle, or flip a coin, and move forward. I hope the 'trivial issues' don't involve extra legal hassles, in which case they will just be reducing everyone's stake if they are eating up some lawyer's time that will be have to paid out of the estate.

Maybe the squabbling comes out of a (conscious or unconscious) defensiveness. To agree to end up with 'less' might represent a tacit acknowledgment on the part of these folks that they had contributed less. They probably don't want that to be underscored materially or publicly.
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Old 08-10-2008, 06:41 AM   #3
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If, in your clarification, you mean that no one's fighting with the carers, it's all amongst the relative slackers..

Yes, that is what is happening... except in their effort to gain leverage over one another, they try to pull us into the arguments.


We are taking the high road... but we are also not interested in the process dragging on. Unfortunately, their squabbling has resulted in estate settlement activity going very slow with little progress. They agree on very little.
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Old 08-10-2008, 07:52 AM   #4
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Sorry to hear that, I've seen it before with other people, and I'm not looking forward to helping DW, the executor, deal with one sister and one SIL when her father passes. One sister is mentally unstable but can be dealt with, the SIL is simply greedy.

I was so grateful to my two sisters when my mother died for being patient with the drawn-out process. They never even asked me to show them the supporting documents for the forms I sent them. They acted insulted when I offered to.
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Old 08-10-2008, 08:16 AM   #5
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Itís very sad and very common. I recently settled my mother in laws estate in what might be the record time of six months. She had everything in trust and had appointed me successor trustee. I, other than my wifeís share, had no finical incentives. I ruled with an iron hand and followed the trust to the letter. No one spoke to me for months and that made it easier. To give you an example, the jewelry was left to the daughters but no specific pieces to anyone. I put them in a room and gave them one hour to divide it up. Anything left after one hour would be sold and the proceeds divided amongst all. One sibling was not named in the trust, lots of threats. My response, you will be sued for any expenses you cause the trust.

Itís a painful process. Lessons learned: HAVE A GOOD WILL OR TRUST and follow it with out regards to that did what.
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Old 08-10-2008, 08:26 AM   #6
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chinaco, I am so sorry to hear about your mother's passing and the conflict between your siblings.

I was surprised at the feelings of distrust towards my siblings that arose within me after my mother passed away. My brothers are completely trustworthy, and should be the last people on earth I would distrust but those feelings arose anyway, defying all logic.

I will be eternally grateful to my brother, who acted as executor, for defusing my (very unreasonable) distrust. He did this by keeping the whole process extremely open and sending all of us copies of everything. He has updated us every two weeks or month as to the progress in settling her estate, and what had been done, and what was still left to do. The estate is over 95% distributed but still not completely settled, even now at almost 11 months after her death. So this has been a long, drawn out process and regular, open communication initiated by the executor has been important to me.

Are you the executor? If so, I would recommend a similar approach.

My mother had a few possessions remaining at (nearly) age 98, other than her substantial investments. I didn't ask for any particular item and most went to charity.

My sister-in-law (executor's wife) was so sweet - - during a visit here she brought me a handkerchief (white, with hearts on it) that I had bought with my allowance and had given my mother for Valentine's Day, 1956. It has no inherent monetary value but I was touched that my mother had kept it for over half a century. This was a sweet, sentimental gesture on the part of my sister-in-law.
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Old 08-10-2008, 08:42 AM   #7
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He did this by keeping the whole process extremely open and sending all of us copies of everything.
I'm successor trustee for both of my parents' trusts. My number one goal will be to do exactly as you've said. The key will be to treat my two sisters as I would like to be treated if one of them, rather than me, was the successor trustee. That said, it's still not going to be fun. All three of us have 'difficult' personalities.
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Old 08-10-2008, 08:42 AM   #8
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I will be eternally grateful to my brother, who acted as executor, for defusing my (very unreasonable) distrust. He did this by keeping the whole process extremely open and sending all of us copies of everything. He has updated us every two weeks or month as to the progress in settling her estate, and what had been done, and what was still left to do.
That's exactly what I did (I was the administrator) with my two sisters. There was never any expressed distrust, but I wanted to keep them informed of what had been done, was was yet to be done, and the expected time periods for each step.

The only point of contention was a stuffed bear that my mother had made so we agreed to swap it around once a year.
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Old 08-10-2008, 08:55 AM   #9
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That's exactly what I did (I was the administrator) with my two sisters. There was never any expressed distrust, but I wanted to keep them informed of what had been done, was was yet to be done, and the expected time periods for each step.

The only point of contention was a stuffed bear that my mother had made so we agreed to swap it around once a year.
Aw! That is sweet and a great solution.

I never exactly EXPRESSED my distrust, but shortly after my mother's death my brother asked me if I wanted copies of two of the trusts. I responded yes, that I wanted them and also a copy of the third trust. So, he could probably infer that I was battling "distrust demons". It is hard to trust even the most trustworthy of brothers when millions of dollars are in the balance. Money can change people (but didn't change my brother, and I love him even more for it).

Another thing I forgot to mention is that he forwarded relevant e-mails from the banks administering the trusts, from the lawyer, and any other e-mails sent to him, along with his responses and discussion of his plans for dealing with potential obstacles. Also, he sent us copies of the more important paper communications.

As a result, even though (as the executor) he has made ALL the decisions, we have had opportunities to express any misgivings and have input. He is a smart cookie and has done a lot better job of this than my other brother or I would have been able to do.
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Old 08-10-2008, 09:06 AM   #10
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I'm successor trustee for both of my parents' trusts. My number one goal will be to do exactly as you've said. The key will be to treat my two sisters as I would like to be treated if one of them, rather than me, was the successor trustee. That said, it's still not going to be fun. All three of us have 'difficult' personalities.
I understand. We fought like cats and dogs when we were little, and my mother was always the peacemaker and the one who kept us from murdering one another. Of course, as we reached adulthood, we stopped fighting. Still, there was still some sibling rivalry that popped up now and then at unexpected times, and she was the peacemaker there, too. I think that perhaps my distrust arose from the fact that our mother - - the peacemaker - - was gone, and I felt a void, and deeply missed her love and protection.
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Old 08-10-2008, 09:08 AM   #11
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I'm sorry for your loss, Chinaco. This is never easy and the family issues aren't helping.

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Sorry to hear that, I've seen it before with other people, and I'm not looking forward to helping DW, the executor, deal with one sister and one SIL when her father passes.
We don't expect any substantial estates from our parents-- indeed we'll feel lucky if we don't end up having to support their care too.

It seems far easier to disclaim everything and just move on with our lives. The money won't improve our standard of living and our kid certainly doesn't need to win the grandparent lottery. At least spouse's brother is a tax CPA and knows how to minimize the pain.

When my mother died, my father sat down with my brother and I (and my brand-new spouse), opened Mom's jewelry box, and said we were to help ourselves to one of anything. I can't even remember who chose what, but I'll always remember discovering that Mom owned three engagement rings-- only one of which had been supplied by my father. They were just short of their 28th anniversary but Dad was as surprised as we were. We'll never know "the rest of the story" but it's a shame when family relations get in the way of those memories.
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Old 08-10-2008, 09:19 AM   #12
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At least spouse's brother is a tax CPA and knows how to minimize the pain.
My brother (the one who is executor) is a CPA and former CFO so he is pretty good with numbers and taxes. Still, he hired a CPA firm to assist him.

Did I mention that when a sum is to be distributed, and it is not an even multiple of three, he always gives himself one less cent than me? And if there are two extra cents instead of one, he gives the "larger" (by one cent) amount to my other brother and me. He never said a word about it but he knows we will notice. What a great brother I have. It's not the extra cent - - it's what that practice is communicating to us.

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One of my worst fears is to learn that I've been appointed executor. I wouldn't do it to my worst enemy, and I hate to do it to family.
I didn't think much about it either way, but now that I have seen what is involved I wouldn't do it for all the tea in China!!! It can be such a huge PITA.
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Old 08-10-2008, 09:26 AM   #13
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Glad I wont be apart of something like this. Sounds terrible.
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Old 08-10-2008, 11:21 AM   #14
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Yes, that is what is happening... except in their effort to gain leverage over one another, they try to pull us into the arguments.

We are taking the high road... but we are also not interested in the process dragging on. Unfortunately, their squabbling has resulted in estate settlement activity going very slow with little progress. They agree on very little.
That all sounds much like what I am expecting to happen when my FIL passes away. With six siblings there is not enough money to go around that anyone is going to ER as a result, but the amount won't be trivial.

There has been some long-standing resentment that the youngest is going to get more than the rest. While he has some very minor learning disabilities, his real problem is that he is a doofus nobody ever expected much from and his dad swore to his mother that he would make sure he was taken care of. Based on how some of them have acted about that in the past I foresee some infighting, which will include attempts to draw my wife into one camp or the other.

My BIL recently went through all of this with his mother's estate (fairly sizeable). He was the executor and tried to be as fair and open as possible, but even he was impressed by how well his siblings dealt with it. We talk about our wives and their family in the event of their father's death and we agree that we are concerned it will not go very well.

I'll admit to being a little envious of folks like Walt and Want2retire who have siblings who show some class and decorum in this sort of situation.
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Old 08-10-2008, 12:01 PM   #15
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That all sounds much like what I am expecting to happen when my FIL passes away. With six siblings there is not enough money to go around that anyone is going to ER as a result, but the amount won't be trivial.

There has been some long-standing resentment that the youngest is going to get more than the rest. While he has some very minor learning disabilities, his real problem is that he is a doofus nobody ever expected much from and his dad swore to his mother that he would make sure he was taken care of. Based on how some of them have acted about that in the past I foresee some infighting, which will include attempts to draw my wife into one camp or the other.
At least they KNOW that the doofus will be getting more than the rest. My mother left a separate sum to one of her grandchildren and did not reveal that to us before her death. It wasn't much, but my daughter got nothing separately like that, so I was hurt. After stewing about it for a couple of hours, I realized that nothing I did would change who inherited what. So, I accepted that and kept my mouth shut since it wouldn't do any good to squawk. What is, is. Perhaps your doofus BIL's siblings will see it the same way.

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I'll admit to being a little envious of folks like Walt and Want2retire who have siblings who show some class and decorum in this sort of situation.
Thank you. I lay any qualities of class or decorum that my family may exhibit, to my mother's good influences when we were children.

It also helped that we were all on board with my brother being the executor, and had discussed it with my mother prior to her death. My two older brothers are retired MBA/CPA/tax-guru/investment-wizard financial people, whereas I am a working oceanographer with none of these qualifications, so it made sense to all of us that one of them should be executor. My oldest brother was originally executor, but had a stroke some years ago which has left him with short term memory problems. So he can't do it, and all of us agreed with my mother's decision to name my other brother as executor.
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Old 08-10-2008, 01:19 PM   #16
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brother & i are co-executors. without giving it a second thought, i gave all mom's jewelry to my niece (there wasn't a lot--some was my grandmother's). i signed off early on the office condo which went with the business my brother got when the ol'man died previously (oh, that would have been when i got nothing). so now he both has the business and doesn't have to pay rent into the estate while i don't get to collect interest on my share which is tied up in a house we can't sell. he makes up for the tens of thousands or likely a figure higher of dollars of difference by taking me out to lunch and dinners and inviting me on his family vacations.

our lawyer was moved to comment on how well we get along as this is not his usual experience. he told us that most of the time charged by lawyers deals not simply with settling the estate, but with sibling rivalry.

i've already lost a few hundred k to the bubble. another hundred won't make me feel any worse and at least i have something to show for that, a brother who is becoming the friend i always wanted. he was mean to me for most of life and did not become friendly until mom came down with alzheimer's. he's grown a lot since then.

he still manages stupidity here and there: like when he told me he doesn't consider the office inheritance yet because he has to work in it and so can't sell it and therefore he's not getting his fair share. anyone who thinks i speak my mind has no idea how much i bite my tongue. you need to know when to take a bite and when to swallow your pride.

for me, blood is thicker than water; red is more vibrant than green.
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Old 08-10-2008, 03:22 PM   #17
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Thank you. I lay any qualities of class or decorum that my family may exhibit, to my mother's good influences when we were children.
I am amazed at my parents when I realize that I know without a shadow of a doubt that my sisters and I will have a similar experience to yours when that time comes.

My sister, the oldest, is the executrix for my parents, because, well, she's the oldest. Works for me. I may help her out since I am local to my parents and she lives on the other side of the country.

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Old 08-10-2008, 04:13 PM   #18
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Are you the executor? If so, I would recommend a similar approach.

No. I was named in the will as the executor along with a brother. We both declined since we are not in the area where much of the property is located.

We decided to nominate a sister and brother that are near the property to settle the estate. Ironically we nominate them both because we were concerned that if one were left out they would be angry. As it turns out they do not want to cooperate with each other. Another sister who has been on the outs with the brother (who is an executor) has gotten into the act. I suppose it is her chance to try to settle a score.

This is less about money and more about petty grievances.

I am afraid it will drag the process out longer than normal.
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Old 08-10-2008, 05:00 PM   #19
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Reading this, I'm glad there is almost nothing to inherit.


Say not that youíve known a man until youíve shared an inheritance with him.
-attributed to Benjamin Franklin

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Old 08-10-2008, 05:13 PM   #20
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I'm sorry to hear this, Chinaco. A therapist friend was saying that many families break apart at this point. I hope you can work it out.

My mom by-passed her first born and named my sister and I as first and second choices for executor duties. Long before mom passed, sis said she really dreaded doing that job because she didn't want to deal with bro. I suggested that when the time comes, to hire an attorney to contact the other heirs. As it turned out, mom outlived bro. and sis did hire an attorney.

It was a very small estate and the atty. turned the work over to his asst. who was very slow to push the paperwork through; and then she (can you believe this) took early retirement! The nerve! The job then went to his new un-trained asst. My sis kept apologizing about the delays and I kept saying, "no problem, it will end when it ends...." If I have any resentment about it, I'll take it to my grave.

The whole process took two and a half years. The only glitch except the long time element and paying a high fee every month on the estate checking account was that my niece had to be prodded into getting papers notarized and returned to the atty. It was true for me that certain emotions got put on hold until the estate was finalized. IMO, that's a good argument for settling ASAP.
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