Kathryn Bruns, CPA
Family Executor Messes
One of the experiences listed on the "Our Resume" section of our website is: She has assisted a family executor in the midst of family conduct. I'd like to share a story about this and offer some pieces of advice.
A dear family member of mine discovered that he "accidentally" ended up as co-executor of his mother's estate. Accidentally? "What do you mean accidentally?" you may ask. Good question. One would think a person would be very careful when they draft their will, making sure executors are named appropriately and according to their wishes. Nonetheless, my dear family member was told he needed to serve some executor functions as a result of the "accident".
TIP #1 - When you have a will drafted, be sure to review the will before signing it, to make sure it ends up saying what you want. Sounds like a no-brainer, right ? Well, I just want to make sure we've gotten everything covered here.
One of the difficult tasks that he was saddled with as a result of being co-executor was lead involvement in a wrongful death lawsuit initiated by the other executor. The other executor happened to be his step-father (let's call him "SF"). The subject of the wrongful death lawsuit was my dear family member's deceased mother and the other executor's (SF's) wife. So, the two co-executors started off handling the lawsuit tasks amicably enough, but then things began to go south.
TIP #2 - I have said this before, but it is worth repeating....seriously consider NOT having a family member serve as executor. You may think you have a perfectly good relationship with your family member(s), but the emotionally upsetting death of a family member can dredge up some long standing unresolved issues that you didn't realize still exist.
The main issue that caused the relationship between the two co-executors to go south was that my dear family member was put in the frustrating and upsetting position to ensure that the lawsuit continued to progress and result in the best outcome possible. You see, the other executor (SF) continuously allowed social media posts and pictures to be on display that were advised by their lawyer could potentially negatively impact the case. The posts and pictures were indicative of SF having happily moved on with his life with a new love interest, which could serve to undermine the "pain and suffering" aspect of the damages. My dear family member, knowing that he and his siblings were forced to also be involved with this difficult lawsuit, had to ask SF over and over to put a stop to it. The child-like rebellion against being "told what to do", left SF to claim he felt "bullied". Instead of following simple lawyer instructions and feeling sorry for the inconvenience he was putting my dear family member through in having to police this, World War III seemed to have been triggered over the matter.
ASIDE: My dear family member's step-father (SF) attempted to lie to me about how the last interaction between him and my dear family member went down surrounding this matter. When he could no longer evade being caught in the lie, SF childishly exclaimed that he was so angry that he couldn't help himself behaving the way he did. Hence, the sad reality that some people will never grow up emotionally and be accountable for their role in their relationship problems. Adults CAN and SHOULD control themselves enough to not lie in order to slander their innocent children and step-children for the purpose of trying to avoid their blame. Adults that use lies this way need to get some serious help, as they are not safe to be involved with in the long run.
TIP #3 - Quite often, a fight between two people isn't really about the current issue, but is instead a symptom of serious long-standing relationship problems that were never and can never be resolved. Not all adults are capable of healthy relationships, even with their own family members. You cannot control what family you were born into, but you CAN make the choice to decide you can not and will not conform to fit into a dysfunctional family culture, and move on if need be.
Eventually, after much difficulty, my dear family member was able to ultimately negotiate a decent settlement to bring an end to the difficult lawsuit. It wasn't easy and my dear family member and I had many talks about the pros and cons of all of the choices, all things considered. By this time, my own relationship with SF had ended (see the ASIDE above, which was pretty much the last straw for me - I spent years NOT taking my own advice in TIP #3 above)
At the end of the day, the settlement involved money going to the deceased's children and grandchildren. The other executor (SF) wanted to be the one to directly send the grandchildren's funds to them. One of these grandchildren was my beloved daughter. SF had previously been told how to get the funds to my daughter despite our non-relationship. Nonetheless, months went by and my daughter never received her funds, but all of the other grandchildren had received theirs a long time ago. During this period of months of not sending my daughter her money from the lawsuit involving her deceased grandmother, SF was proclaiming to everyone how much he loves and misses his granddaughter. SF had also been previously told that the granddaughter he presumably loves was waiting for this money. As the advocate for my daughter, who was not in the position to advocate for herself, I decided to take action even though the last thing I wanted to do was interact with SF. Feeling stressed out and disturbed by the fact that I even had to be dealing with this, I felt like I needed some help.
TIP #4 - Don't be afraid to ask for help. Even if you're conditioned to do everything yourself with little or no help, there will be times when you simply need to put your head together with the heads of some loving friends and/or family in order to get the job done successfully.
No need to get into all of the details of what transpired next, but I implemented some of the advice I received from my few "helpers" and at the end of the day my daughter got her money. What I also got is yet another piece of evidence that SF is simply not someone that belongs in our life. I mean, it's one thing to want to take revenge on someone you deem your enemy, but to withhold something from an innocent child, and then try to make nonsensicle excuses about it, that's a whole other territory.
In conclusion, if you need to follow TIP #4 and get some help dealing with a difficult, emotionally draining situation that is impacting your income, assets, and/or quality of life, feel free to call Personal Affairs Stewardship LLC. We can help.