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Saturday, August 14, 2010

Should the executor change the locks on the house?

One of the most common, and most upsetting, things that family members do once a parent has passed away is go into the deceased's home and take things they want. I'm not talking about an open, co-operative family visit where everyone agrees on who gets what; I'm talking about individuals letting themselves in while nobody is looking, sometimes even during the middle of the night. The other family members feel cheated and angry, at a time when emotions are already running close to the surface, and this is an abundant source of family disputes.

Part of the problem is that the executor doesn't change the locks on the deceased's house. This is usually because he or she trusts the other family members not to do anything underhanded. Other executors feel uneasy about changing the locks because they too are family members and they don't want to look as if they are trying to keep things for themselves. The majority of executors have never been an executor before and they don't really know what the detailed rules are. They don't want to upset anyone.

If you're the executor, change the locks on the deceased parent's home as soon as you possibly can.

If anyone in your family protests about this, you can explain that as executor, you are legally and financially responsible for every item in that house. You don't know who else has a key, such as neighbours, caregivers or service providers. Also, you want to make a fair distribution of household items based on what has been set out in the parent's Will. Anyone who still has trouble with these reasons deserves to be locked out as they are clearly not interested in having the estate carried out in a fair, smooth, logical way.

Often a distribution of personal effects takes place pretty quickly, as siblings and other family members who live far away are in town for the funeral and it's convenient and logical to deal with whatever you can while everyone is close by. If there are specific items that are left to certain people in the Will or in a Memorandum (list) separate those items from other household goods and keep them in a safe place until you can deliver them to the correct beneficiaries.

Arrange a day and time for everyone to come to the house together and make it clear that you will be in charge of the distribution process. Bring a friend or two to help organize and carry things, if you need it. When everyone arrives, read out the portion of the Will that deals with household and personal goods and explain how it's going to work. For example, will there be one person at a time choosing, and if so, who goes first? Be consistent, once you've set up your system.

Keep a list of who has received which items from the home.

This can be a really tough day for everyone, but by keeping the division of property calm and respectful to everyone, you will be helping matters quite a bit.

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