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Dealing with an estate's difficult heirs

When your best friend asked you to be the executor of their estate, you accepted immediately. How could you refuse? It's an honor to make sure that your friend's final wishes are obeyed, and the estate is handled properly.

You were prepared for all of the paperwork. You knew it would be somewhat time-consuming to work through all of the steps involved with probate and managing the estate. You did not anticipate, however, the fact that your friend's heirs (one or all of them) are so difficult.

A difficult heir is one that pushes an executor to "skip steps" and pass out the inheritances before its time. They may simply not understand how the probate process works -- or they may not care. They may even be concerned that their inheritance will be stolen out from under them during this time.

If the heirs are causing you a lot of grief with daily phone calls and insinuations that you aren't doing your job correctly, here's what you can do:

  1. Explain the process to them. Most people aren't familiar with how inheritance works, so sit them down and explain that the assets have to be inventoried and valued, debts have to be paid, the taxes need to be filed and the court needs to sign off on everything -- before the inheritances are handed out.
  2. Let them know that you have secured their inheritance. Some of the heirs may be mostly concerned with sentimental objects or family heirlooms. Help them understand that you have taken steps to secure those assets and will keep them safe until the appropriate time.
  3. Work with an experienced probate attorney. When heirs are being difficult, it can help to defer to a "higher authority," like an attorney. While they might try to bully a family friend, even the most difficult heirs may find it hard to push an attorney into doing what they want.

Just remember: You are the executor, which means that you are the person who is ultimately responsible for handling the estate. Don't let an aggressive heir create trouble.

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