The estate executor is the person nominated in a Will to handle all the legal and financial affairs for a loved one’s estate. It is a big job with a lot of responsibility. Executors carry the responsibility to ensure that the estate is handled right and run the risk of personal legal liability for any mistakes.
At some point in time the executor will be expected to distribute the assets of the estate. Distribution means paying all the taxes and the debts and making a distribution of the net estate to the beneficiaries. Beneficiaries naturally look forward to the date of distribution knowing they will receive their inheritance. In nearly every estate that I handle beneficiaries will reach out to me with urgent questions about the probate process. Beneficiaries have common questions such as ‘When will I receive my inheritance?’ or ‘How long will probate take?’. These are valid concerns. Managing the expectations of beneficiaries is crucial in avoiding disputes. Beneficiaries want to receive information from the estate primarily because they are concerned about when they will receive their share. In many cases it makes sense to share information with beneficiaries to ensure that their concerns are important to the estate.
But sharing information about the estate with beneficiaries is a delicate balancing act. On one hand withholding information about the estate can spark conflicts with the beneficiaries. Beneficiaries might develop suspicions that the executor is hiding something are trying to take something away from a beneficiary. However, over sharing information tends to lead to persistent demands, escalating costs and misinformation circulating among other beneficiaries.
How Should the Executor Manage Beneficiary Expectations?
There’s isn’t a single best answer as to how and when to communicate with beneficiaries. Much depends upon the relationship between the beneficiaries and the executor and the beneficiaries, as well as among the beneficiaries themselves. One common approach that I take is to assess the level of potential hostility and the risk of potential liability claims by a beneficiary. Generally speaking, the more adverse the relationships the greater the need for formality in how estate information is communicated. Another best practice is to treat the estate administration process with the highest level of professionalism. Beneficiaries who see that the estate is being handled by the book will have greater confidence that their rights will be respected.
Navigating the estate administration process is difficult not only due to the legal issues but also the family dynamics. As a probate attorney to estate executors, I help my clients settle estates efficiently and reduce stress. If you or someone you know is faced with a probate process or roadblocks to a property sale, please have them contact us for a free evaluation at:
Phone: (215) 918-4242
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