There is no way you can know how you will handle a death and being an executor or administrator of a will until it actually happens. For the last two and half months I have been handling the estate of a relative. She passed away in July. The will had an executor.
However, that executor and his attorney were not communicating with the family. So, we hired an attorney to keep tabs on them. Soon after that the executor and his attorney renounced their position.
(Give you one guess as to why they renounced!)
Anyway, that left the attorney we had hired, my dad, or me as possible alternates. After discussion, it was decided I would petition to take on the role since I have the health and ability to travel. (Yes, petition. The renunciation and new administrator have to be approved by the courts.) The idea was I would handle the non-legal tasks and our attorney would file the required court papers. This entire process, by the way, has been taking place in New York, and I live on the west coast.
The process has been grueling. It has taken its toll on me mentally and physically, and we are far from being near completion. Probate takes a minimum of seven months, once the will is submitted to probate, and can go for years of the will gets contested or family members who must be notified can’t be found or choose not to acknowledge paperwork sent to them to be signed.
After only two and a half months we have spent $20,000 out of pocket on attorney and court fees. If the relatives do not return their paperwork before the probate date set by the court, it will take approximately another $10,000 out of the estate (once we can use the estate money) to pay the attorney fees for the probate representative assigned to represent the next of kin who chose not to reply to paperwork sent to them via mail, certified mail, and email.
I’ve had the opportunity to speak to several friends about the process. None of them were aware of how complicated probate can get and how expensive, and stressful, it can be for the family. Keep in mind, not all probate cases will be like this one. Some families actually talk to each other and can come to reasonable, mutual decisions to make sure probate can go quickly, or as quickly as the state in which the decease died will allow it to proceed.
(Note: If your relative dies without a will expect probate to go for one or more years while the state appointed probate administrator locates all assets and figures out how to divide them among the next of kin. This is happening to a friend of mine. It has been two years already.)
Something I have learned is that probate eats up an estate very quickly. Between attorney fees and court fees the estate value will drain faster than the water going down a sink! Some attorneys will do a flat fee, some do a percentage of the estate, some get their fee at the end of probate and some want retainers and payment up front.
I had to put a halt to our attorney’s work after I saw the second invoice. We had a long talk, and I said we can’t afford any more out of pocket. Like a typical attorney, he listened but basically said look at the contract. I told him I did and read back parts of it to him. We basically argued for 30 minutes and I said he was negligent in keeping tabs on how much work they work doing and the amount that was adding up. The contract said we would be informed if the original retainer got below a certain point. He said that wasn’t what that statement meant and that he doesn’t have time to check every associates hours and what the bill is adding up to for each client. I disagreed and said it was his firm’s responsibility to let us know when we got to the point that the retainer was used up. Instead, they sent us a bill that showed it had been used up and stating we owed another $10,000. I asked him if he just expected his clients to have $20,000 or more sitting in the bank. He said he didn’t. I told him, no more work because no more pay until it can come from the estate, including the two weeks of October that had yet to be billed. I reiterated that in the email I sent him after the conversation. I also made sure he understood that all tasks were to be approved by me going forward. I think he got the idea. Maybe.
One thing I have heard from many of my close friends is that I should write about my experience and put up information and tips about the probate process from the perspective of an amateur administrator.
Thus, I will be documenting my experience and providing any tips that I can. I don’t know how many posts that will be, as I don’t know how long this probate process will take. Right now it is looking like it will go into next spring or possibly summer.
Hopefully the information will help any of you out there who think you may have to be an executor or administrator some day of a loved one’s estate.
More to come.
PS. If YOU have a will, please do your family a favor and pay the extra money and have a living trust done up by a good attorney. It won’t let the estate bypass all of probate, but much if it will bypass and be a smoother process, and hopefully cheaper one, for your grieving family.