My father recently passed away a month ago. He and my sister had a falling out 6 years ago and haven't been in touch. The will was shared with us where it simply states that assets are to be divided between myself and my sister.

The executor asked me a couple weeks back what items I was interested in from my father's apartment. I said:

- Jewelry

- Photos

- Some old toys

"Feel free to send pictures or ask me questions if there are items you are unsure about."

I called the executor to make sure this was ok and clear. The conversation was friendly.

A few days later, I got an email with over a 150 pictures of everything in his apartment, from garbage bags under the sink to a half finished carton of Oreos to toothpaste in the cupboard. The executor asked if I wanted more detailed pictures

I replied and thanked the executor for the detailed documentation (while I really felt like this was overdoing it), but that further such documentation was unnecessary.

Now my sister has come back into the picture. The executor is telling me that my sister would be traveling up to see my father's apartment and storage unit. The executor wrote to me "To this end we would need your clearly written consent and full permission for her to take anything she wants from the apartment and storage unit."

I live outside of the country and couldn't fly back for this. On the one hand, I am feeling frustrated and angry. I wish my father had just been more specific about things and avoided these situations. I have tried to be helpful and straightforward with the executor, even following up to confirm that I was clear, but just feel like in response I am getting less help. Almost like a lawyer, the executor is cross examining my little list, asking me about which photos I had in mind.

I don't want to get pulled into a conflict or family feud. I feel like the best thing is to put aside whatever emotions are building up inside, sign a letter of intent like the executor suggested, and wait to see whatever my sister leaves after she visits. In terms of things that might have questionable value the executor writes "the contents will be taken to a jewelry store for valuation and this information will be shared with the attorneys office, your sister and yourself."

Has anyone been through the distribution of assets, and had frustrations?

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Sleepless, the executor is merely trying to be neutral and carry out his job to the best of his ability.   While I initially thought sending photos of the junk was inappropriate, I think there's a legitimate reason:   cost of clean-up, which will be one of the first of the other priority costs to be paid before distribution is made.   

If you weren't aware that there were junk items and noted in the final accounting that he had hired a junk hauler, you might have wondered why that kind of contractor was necessary.

He's also being wise in getting an appraisal for the jewelry.   

Jacobsonbob, do I have some news for you!   Retitling trust assets can be much more complicated than just retitling.  I have at least 6 different documents for EACH stock, most of which have to be notarized, and some of which have to be medallion guaranteed.  

The latter is more of a challenge, especially if you use a bank, which I will do as I've used the same bank for almost 2 decades, and they're by far the best to deal with trusts.    I learned from my bank that they no longer routinely provide medallion guarantees, but fortunately I found one branch that did and plan to use them for any other Trust issues.

It was suggested to me by one of the transfer associates at the stock management company to inquire into an online medallion guarantee company, which I thought was totally inappropriate.   Not only would there be no in person verification, but this total stranger would be seeing documents of a sensitive nature, and of course whatever I could learn about the company would only be online.   I wouldn't open up my father's Trust management to any unknown online company.

As to the dozen or so documents, answers have to be very, very precise; any confusion could result in having to re-execute the document.
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jacobsonbob Jun 2020
Thanks, GardenArtist. The stocks are all in one account "in street name" with an investment firm from which we get statements each month (both in paper and electronic form). My sister also has contacts at the firm whom she has known for a long time. There is some cash in a bank consisting of dividends deposited from the investment firm, for writing ordinary checks to pay our mother's NH bills, etc., so the balance there should be increasing by now.

I've never heard of a medallion guarantee, so I'll look this up and, of course, find out if this is something we would have to involve. My BIL points out that after our mother's death, my sister and I are liable for taxes on dividends, so we should get all this done expeditiously. I don't believe my sister has any objection or resistance to it, but if you're familiar with the term " herding cats" you'll get the picture. She's the trustee and POA--my BIL has said I should have been the one to have this position, but her situation was somewhat more settled than mine, and I believe my father thought that my BIL would help her (but he generally stays away unless asked a specific question). As I've said to him, I can provide information and advise, but ultimately my sister has to sign any paperwork (although I'm a "backup").

In any case, I'll just have to learn what's necessary in this case, and then follow through!
When I visited my parents and we got into a discussion of such things, I stood in the middle of the family room, looked around and said "look at all this stuff my sister will own someday!". My father laughed, because he knew what I meant--I had no need or interest in 99% of what was there. Since then, the house was sold to the next-door neighbor (to use as a rental property) and now both of our parents are gone, and all the tangible property in it has either been given to Goodwill or kept by us.

My father had a trust document written up, dividing stock between my sister and me. Per my father's comments, it was intended to be equal, but because it was done giving ABC and DEF to one of us, and TUW and XYZ to the other, the values have changed in the decade since being written, so the halves are rather "lopsided" now. (Note to self and anyone thinking about doing this: it would have been better to split each company's stock in half, so the values of the two halves would have remained equal, especially if the time between allocating them and the time the children will receive them is likely to be a while.) The dividends plus SS and pension covered much of the nursing home costs, so the portfolio is essentially unscathed. In any case, the stock has been with one of the large investment companies for a while with whom we have also have accounts, so we're hoping it will be a relatively simple matter to have them renamed upon showing the trust document and the death certificates. Hopedly, this will allow both of us to get on with our lives.
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My husband died four years ago. For many years I have helped my daughter and son in law financially. After my husband died I told them I couldn't continue giving financial assistance but they continued to request it. Unfortunately I kept giving them money , some of it in the form of " loans". I can't do this anymore and got rid of my fone because the numerous texts were causing me extreme anxiety.

Maybe It is time for me to accept that they don't really want to be part of my life anymore except when they need something from me. I love them but I desperately need some peace in my life. I feel depressed, anxious, chronically tired and so lonely.
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jacobsonbob Jun 2020
You should tell them I'll need my money to take care of my own needs when I'm old (or older) and I can't afford to give you any more.

I am now reading some undercurrents in your more recent replies.

If the estate is to be divided equally, it should be done on the basis of total asset value, especially if there is friction between you and your sister. That is why jewelry is sent for appraisal, especially when you, are saying you want it all. Perhaps your sister wants some of it too?

Family photos should be divided between the two of you and one way to do that is to have them scanned. I would request this for any larger or displayed photos. For photos in storage if you are not interested in them, then let the Executor know.

Mum just helped a family downsize to AL. They had several beautiful china cabinets full of sets of china. Unfortunately the market for formal china sets is very limited, no matter what was paid for them. The 'Value' you are attributing to them may be much lower than you expect. Once again a reason for appraisals.

Actually anytime there is potential conflict in an estate, full appraisals should be done. It is not a money grab by the Executor as they are not the one doing the appraisals. It can however save a huge amount of time and stress over the long run.
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In probate the Executor is only entitled to a % of the Estate. The larger the Estate the less % he/she gets. This is how it is in NJ

"Under New Jersey law, a single executor is entitled to a one-time “corpus commission” equal to 5 percent of the first $200,000 of probate assets, 3.5 percent on the next $800,000 of probate assets and 2 percent on all probate assets having a value in excess of $1 million"

So the most an Executor can make is 20k no matter how much work he does. Unless, the Will provides more compensation. Is the Executor someone Dad assigned in his will or the lawyer assigned? Either way, I would make the lawyer aware that this Executor is going over and above. The only pictures he should have sent was the toys and the jewelry you requested. I would also tell him that before sister takes what she wants, you want to see a list of the things first. She is not to take anything until you agree to it.
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Sorry for your loss.

You have the choice to have anything of value sold at an estate sale.
Allowing an estranged family member to plunder the estate with free reign seems irresponsible.

I would request that all the photos be shipped to you, and you can go through them and share with sister. And, all the jewelry sent to you, and you will decide.

It seems a deliberate insult for the executor to send you pictures of trash. Just my opinion. I would not give my consent, and require them to perform their duty. Is it possible the executor thinks there is no value?
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sleepless44 Jun 2020
Thanks Sendhelp, very much appreciated.
"It seems a deliberate insult for the executor to send you pictures of trash."
This was exactly my first reaction. I really felt livid, and I was thinking 'is this executor nuts?' And that is exactly why I wanted to raise the issue here. I thought that maybe I am wrong. Maybe this is just the way an executor does their job, whether the estate consists of valuable art and precious metals or just piles of old papers. It seems absurd, but that's what I wanted to check out here.

"Allowing an estranged family member to plunder the estate with free reign seems irresponsible."
This is how I feel too. But I have already had experiences challenging my sister on things and it brought with it legal expenses and emotional drain. Here I feel it is more the principle, than the value of the items at stake. I think most of the items have only sentimental value.
There are some older complete sets of china that my mother inherited from her mother, that could have some antique or collectors value. But I live overseas and wouldn't be able to bring those things over.

In regards to photographs, the executor wrote "You indicate you want "photographs" - there must be thousands of these in the apartment and the storage unit. Are you aware of exactly which photographs you want?
An option for the photographs would be to take them to a company that can scan them all."
This here feels like another 'opportunity' on the side of the executor to get to work on a project, charging the estate, and at the end of the day there might not be so many photos I would be interested in - probably just a lot of my parent's vacations.

My impression is that the executor is not simply an opportunist but also not entirely creative or efficient at this task. For example, in regards to the jewelry the executor has said "Later this week the contents will be taken to a jewelry store for valuation and this information will be shared with the attorneys office, your sister and yourself."
I don't think the jewelry will be given much monetary value, but I also don't want to encourage the executor too much to start needlessly sending items for evaluation.
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You say that Dad and sister had a ‘falling out’. What about you? Are you on reasonable terms with sister? There is no reason why you shouldn’t contact sister directly, make you own arrangements and then inform the executor about what you have agreed. If the executor is charging, all this is building up the bill and might even be deliberate. The photos of garbage etc are ridiculous!
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worriedinCali Jun 2020
how can it be deliberate when the executors fee is a percentage of the value of the estate? That’s how it’s done in the US.
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Actually, I have to be on the side of the Executor. It has to be hard dealing with someone in another country that can't be there. Yes, it would have been nice if Dad said this piece of jewelry went to you this piece to sister.
Have you specified what pieces of jewelry u want. What toys? Photos are hard till u see them.

In your situation, its really going to be hard to "split" property. With me, my SIL told me what she would like to have. She took the cedar chest because I have one of my own. I sent along pictures I thought they would want. They live 4 states away and it wasn't easy.

Not sure why he took pictures of everything when you stipulated what you wanted.
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sleepless44 Jun 2020
Thanks JoAnn29
This is one of my concerns. I did try to specify as clearly as possible the items I was interested in. I gave an itemized list by model and name of the toys and other items. The only thing that I left open was photographs. When the executor told me that there were thousands of photographs in storage and would be able to scan and send me digital copies, I politely thanked them but said no thank you - it was not that important and felt like a heavy drain. In terms of jewelry, I specified my mother's rings and father's rings. Here the executor is going to get everything appraised now. My main thing is that I don't want conflict in this process and I am happy to forego these items for the benefit of peace and unnecessarily draining the estate.
Just wanted to figure out if the executor was acting to a normal way or going overboard (and having a self-interest payment involved).
Perhaps the executor went "overboard" because they have a very specific legal obligation that they are ultimately accountable for?
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Sorry for your loss, what a challenge. In my experience it is not uncommon for parents to leave it to their heirs to divide the goods in an estate.

If a family can get together, one method is to have the kids draw numbers and each chooses one thing, then they go in rotation until everyone has gotten something, repeat until nobody is interested any more. Perhaps the Executor can do with for you and your sister. With your list in hand, they can place one item in your pile, then your sister chooses one. It would be best if you can connect via video technology to be there virtually, that way you can see the photos etc.

If is usual for any items of value to be appraised. Mum is the executor of an estate and there are some very old very beautiful items in it. They have had to be sent to experts on the other side of the country for appraisal.

Our neighbour died a couple months ago. In the case of his estate two entire households are being appraised as there are innumerable collectables, two estranged sons and an executor who lives off Island. There is discussion that there will be an estate sale in August once the appraisals are complete. The proceeds of the sale will be divided between the sons.

One last thing. Your Dad left his estate to the two of you. This means that regardless of the falling out, your sister has equal right to her share of the estate. This means you have equal dibs on any one item in the estate, whether or not you provided care and support to Dad.
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I think anyone who has lost a LO and has to deal with the aftermath of the will/trust and other people will say 'yeah, it was tough'.

It sounds like you are not terribly worried about getting the few things you want, and yes, maybe the executor went a little overboard with the photos--but better safe than sorry.

It's not unusual for a parent to NOT specify things for their kids. They think they're never going to die, so they don't make wills specific.

Have the executor ship you the exact things you want and then let it go about your sibling and whatever she may take. You do need to sign something to effect that you know your sibling will be going through dad's things and possibly taking something you really wanted--but if you cannot be there, then you just run that risk.

You actually asked and answered your own question!

Good luck with this.
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