For decades our New York estate planning lawyers have helped local residents use living trusts instead of wills to plan their affairs. For many clients a will simply creates more problems than it solves. For example, yesterday the Wall Street Journal published a story exploring the myriad of issues faced by a will executor–the person named to manage the estate of a deceased individual in a will. It was explained how a wide variety of complex tasks are required of the executor, there are legal repercussions when mistakes are made, and many relationships are ruined in the process of settling the estate.
Executors are often siblings or other family members of the deceased. It is the executor’s job to administer a will through the probate process by accounting for assets, paying debts, and distributing property. Red tape, complexity, tedium, and relationship conflicts are inherent in the process. Many professionals in the field report that there has been a steady increase in the number of “executorships gone bad.” Some believe that recent economic troubles have led to more inheritance fights as of late, complicating the executor’s job even further. When a will is challenged by an heir (a frequent occurrence), the executor is usually thrown into the middle of depositions, court appearances, and other legal situations that most would prefer to avoid.
Observers admit that the role of executor is generally not suited for amateurs. Often the individual is required to be aware of taxation rules, potential conflicts of interest, and even investment strategies like picking stocks and bonds. All of this comes with little pay, because state guidelines set the amount of money that an executor can receive.
To top it off, executors are often placed in the middle of contentious family discord. One college professor explained the nightmare scenario created when he was named the executor of his father’s estate which was to be split between himself, his sister, and his stepmother. At the outset his stepmother challenged the will, feeling as if she were owed a larger share. After contentious disagreement in and out of the courtroom, a judge eventually upheld the original plan. However, the relationship damage was already complete. The man noted afterwards, “Let’s just say that holiday gatherings became fewer and less cordial.” For those in our area, the clear take-away lesson from the tribulations of executors is the benefit of avoiding the probate process altogether when crafting a New York estate plan.
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