February 4, 2009 by 8junebugs
Someone needs to write a book for executors. Most of the resources I’ve found have been directed toward people trying to get their affairs in order so their kids don’t need to worry about forensic accounting upon their demise.
Which I wholeheartedly support, by the way. Hey, you out there! Do you have a Last Will & Testament? Was it written before or after you had a kid/got divorced/watched the Berlin Wall come down? Before? Then I humbly suggest you revise it with the help of your attorney, or I will personally punch you in the face on behalf of your heir(s).
But I’m finding little in the way of support for executors, especially those of the offspring variety who may have conflicting emotions about managing the business end of the end of a life. “Estate planning” is great when you have the time, resources, and peace of mind to face the fact that you won’t live forever, that you will likely not even live as long as you’d like. “Estate management” is what your kids get to do if you, for whatever reason, lack any of those things.
I pushed to be the executor — I’ll admit that. There are several reasons…consider this a list of things to consider if you’re offered the honor of carrying out someone’s last wishes:
- I talked with Mom about her estate and knew much more about what to expect and what would need to be done than KidBrother. As much as I wish she’d just put it in writing, I’m pretty clear on what she wanted.
- I had power of attorney and worked on Mom’s best friend’s estate with her — that experience sucked, but it prepared me for the steps I would need to take and the realities of digging into someone’s affairs. It also taught me to hire a lawyer to do the fucking paperwork.*
- By virtue of being older, being out on my own longer, and having a different lifestyle, I’m comfortable with the professionals involved in this process. Morticians, bankers, lawyers, doctors, accountants, realtors, creditors with claims on the estate — all of these can be intimidating. It just doesn’t usually work on me. (I also take intimidation attempts as a personal challenge, but that’s beside the point.)
- Executors incur expenses and the pre-liquidation estate may not be able to cover them. I was prepared for that and am as comfortable as I can be with knowing that they will be reimbursed. And if they’re not, somehow, well…I’ll know whom to sue.
- I am good with spreadsheets. They soothe me. I know, right this minute, roughly what we can expect from the sale of the house at 12 different price points.
- I ask a LOT of questions. I ask my attorney, the realtor, my friends, the internets… I don’t care if someone thinks it’s a stupid question (and don’t say there’s no such thing, because that’s a bald-faced lie) — if I need to know the answer, I will ask the question.
- I’m pretty good at not taking this personally. I’m not enjoying it, but I’m finding that I don’t really blame Mom for the stress I’m under right now. I can be sad about the fear — several different kinds, I imagine — that kept her from setting things in order without being angry that I’m taking care of it now. Besides, it’s generally pointless to get mad at a dead woman.
- I’m better at compartmentalizing than KidBrother. It’s gotten me in plenty of trouble over the years, but, in this particular case, it helps me separate Mom’s real worth as a person from the market value of the things she owned. This is critical — there’s nothing wrong with you if you can’t do this, especially in your 20s, but do not take on executor responsibilities if you can’t do it, or would just prefer not to. (It is okay to prefer not to.)
* Mom was so pissed off by the time the estate closed that she kept her friend’s ashes in the basement for about a year. I’m sure he was duly chastened.
Some notes about #8
It’s particularly discouraging to realize that a small business that someone spent a lifetime building isn’t worth bupkiss once they’re gone. “That’s…that’s a lifetime, don’t they get it? That is MY MOTHER’S life’s work.”
KidBrother and I had some tense conversations about Mom’s salon when someone offered to buy it for less than it was “worth.” The truth is, though, that Mom ran a service business and her clientele was loyal to her. The equipment, the name, the products…all of those are only “worth” what someone is willing to pay. The real price of that salon was paid well over by the clients who brought cards and tipped well, who made her a quilt (and wrote notes on the back) to keep her warm when she rested between appointments, and who came to the service to say goodbye.
The other truth is that it wasn’t her life’s work — we were…we are. So when it comes to fussing about The Glass Clipper or securing the financial legacy she wanted to be able to leave us, I’m confident in the order of my priorities.