“Are Co-Executors a Good Idea?”

Q:  I have two grown daughters who get along well, and treat me with great care and respect.  Now that my husband has passed away, I need to update my will.  I am considering both my daughters to be co-executors.  Is this a good idea or not, Julie?  What do you suggest?

A.  Have you ever noticed that there are those who are very good at making decisions and those who couldn’t make a decision if their life depended on it?  While these are two extreme examples, everyone is somewhere between those two extremes – a mixed bag of opinions, emotions, thoughts, feelings, theories, etc.  You never know what you’re going to get when you add different moods and personalities to the mix.

Even when you know someone very well, the tide can easily turn when one is grieving and handling an estate, which is a very stressful situation.  The slow and steady brother suddenly rears up and causes strife which you did not expect.  The quiet, reclusive sister becomes the chronic complainer to the point of estrangement.  Another sister is refusing to move out of the home, causing major financial problems for the family.  Finally, the long-lost baby brother no one has heard from in years surfaces, demanding his share.

One executor is difficult enough, for they can never make everyone happy and are always the target.  Having co-executors is not often recommended by legal professionals for these reasons:  differences of opinion, geographically remote from the location of the estate, one can easily cause trouble, the other can drag out the sale of the estate against the family’s wishes.  You name it and I’ve seen it!

I think many people choose co-executors because they don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.  In the end after they leave this earth, the hurt, pain, and grief that their decision has caused can be unbearable.

Bottom line: Think long and hard before assigning co-executors.  It may be best to assign this role to someone who is completely objective, rather than either of your daughters.

© 2011 Julie Hall

A Slice of Birthday Cake with Roses on Top

Remember when we were little kids and our eyes were bigger than our stomachs, when we saw the thick, sugary icing and special colored roses on our birthday cake?  Everyone fought over those colorful, sugary roses that contained enough fuel to shoot us to the moon and back, or at least until midnight when the sugar buzz finally wore off.  We were probably 5 or 6 years old, but already we had learned a lesson that would follow us throughout our lives.

The voice in our heads beckoned us to eat as much as possible including all of those coveted roses — after all, it’s my cake, my birthday.  Why shouldn’t I have it all to myself?  Mother’s quiet, yet serious tone forced me to share, and share equally among the other children at the party.  “You have to be fair to everyone,” she would say.  It isn’t fair, I thought to myself.  That’s my cake!  I should have all of the slices of cake with the roses on them.  (The roses were, and still are, my favorite.)

So it is with much of life.  We all want the “roses” in life and that includes our loved one’s estates.  You’ve had your eye on that grandfather clock, or mom’s diamond ring, or dad’s fishing lure collection for years.  And you believe you are entitled to them, or perhaps they were promised to you long ago, so you just assume they will be yours one day.  Then that “one day” comes, and your sibling claims the same thing … the trouble begins.

Until they are gifted to you in person prior to infirmity or death, or until there is a written plan for those heirlooms upon a loved one’s passing, you are entitled to nothing unless it is given to you.  Even if you don’t end up with your beloved “rose,” we must remember that while we would like to have the majority of the cake, it is good and appropriate to share equally.

You taught me well, Mom!

© 2011 Julie Hall

How to Find the Best Executor for your Estate

If there is truly a job that no one wants, it has to be the Executor of an estate.  Being the executor requires great time and effort, and it is usually a thankless job.

Mom and Dad, if you are choosing an executor, here are some suggestions,  First, I recommend that you select an executor who is up to the challenge, not advanced in age, not a procrastinator, and someone who will have your best interests at heart.  Heirs or your children who will receive from the estate are not usually the best choice. 

Don’t worry about hurting anyone’s feelings when you make your choice.  This is your estate and it must be handled in a manner that is comfortable to you.  To do the job well, the executor must put your desires and wishes before anything else.

Help your executor out while you are still living.  Prepare your important papers, like your last will and testament, and make sure your executor knows where to find the papers.  Be sure to keep them updated every few years.

Besides your important legal papers, does your family know your last wishes?  Do they know how you wish to distribute your belongings?  Be sure that specific bequests are spelled out in your last will and testament.  If you want Susie to receive your china, and you want Frank to receive your books, create a master list of these items to store with your important papers. 

Better yet, why not “gift” your possessions while you are still alive?  You’ll have the pleasure of seeing the joy on your heirs’ faces when they receive that piece of jewelry or collectible they have always wanted.  You’ll also reap the benefit of saving your children from struggles and feuds after you pass away.

© 2010 Julie Hall

The Simple Process of Preparing a Will

I want to follow up last week’s true story about Carolyn with some simple information about why you need a will.  I know what you are thinking right now … “I’m young and in perfect health; why do I need to rush and prepare a will?”  No one is guaranteed the length of their days on earth; accidents and illness can come suddenly.  A will is necessary even if you feel you have nothing of value.  You probably have sentimental items that you wish to give to specific heirs.

Preparing a will is a fairly simple process that doesn’t have to be any more complicated or time-consuming than going out to lunch with a friend.

A last will and testament is a legal document that gives clear instructions about what to do with your property after your death and how death taxes, if any, are to be paid, along with final expenses that would include any debt and administrative costs.  It states who is to receive the property and in what amounts. 

A will may also be used to name a guardian for any minor children or to create a trust to handle an estate inheritance to protect spendthrift children or others.  Finally, and this is important in the case of your parents, a will can be used to name a personal representative or executor to handle property and affairs from the time of death until an estate is settled.

You do not have to hire an attorney to make out a will, though I highly recommend it.  The law is multifaceted, and all kinds of scenarios can erupt.  Depending on the complexity of the will, it will initially cost  a few hundred dollars to have an attorney explain your options and then draw up the document. 

But what Carolyn had written on notebook paper in her own handwriting could have served as a legal will if it were witnessed and notarized … and found.  When you consider the years and tears that your heirs and family will endure if you pass away without a  will, a few hundred dollars and a legal will becomes the most loving investment you can make in family harmony and peace.

© 2010 Julie Hall

Are You Ready?

Carolyn was 96 years old and had a lovely three bedroom home filled with antiques passed down from previous generations.  It was obvious that Carolyn and her predecessors had taken great pride in these heirlooms because they were in immaculate condition.  She had done everything right: she left all items in their original condition, she knew the history and stories that went with each piece, and she kept them out of direct sunlight and away from the heat vents.

I met Carolyn six months prior to her passing.  Her 2 children were present, and everyone wanted to know the values of Carolyn’s possessions from her mother’s and grandmother’s estates dating back to the 1850s.  Earlier, the children had spoken with me privately and told me their mother had not prepared a will and asked me to impress upon her the importance of doing so. 

As I examined each piece, I spoke with Carolyn about the importance of making out a will so she could determine what would happen to all of these valuable antiques, but Carolyn was adamant.  “I don’t need a will.  I’ve written on a piece of notebook paper my wishes for my children, and that’s good enough.  If it isn’t, then they can just fight over it.”  And so they would.  The children looked at me and grimaced.  They knew the complications that awaited them if their mother didn’t draft a legal will: potential years of red tape with hefty attorney fees.

Carolyn eventually passed away peacefully, but there was little peace for the family.  No one ever found the handwritten note, so it became a game of “Mom said I could have this,” and “No, she promised that to me.”  Sadly, it was years before the estate was settled, and no one was happy with the outcome.

I wish this story was the exception, but in my experience, it is the norm.  According to a Harris Interactive study, 55 percent of Americans have not bothered to see an attorney to prepare a will.  Have you???

How different would Carolyn’s passing have been for her family with a little more preparation and a visit to an attorney to make everything official!

© 2010 Julie Hall