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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.


  1. That’s all fine and good changin* the locks and I see your point. However what about my case when the executor changed* the locks on my mothers house yet the second inheritor lives there rent free and also has The keys. This is not right. The pretence is that she is helping clean up tg3 property but tha5 is false.,The real motive is to prevent me from inspecting the premises, as nothing is moving in terms of cleanin* up mothers house. I took some photos of the mess and disorganization at six months interval and nothing had changed. It was like the same photo. I offered countless times to help but was constantly told the sisters would take care of it and refused help. Basically the sister-living in the house is trying to stretch things out so sh3 can avoid going back to her own home because she has been having a long term affair and two play both ends.And the executor instead of taking
    care of business prefers to enable her as she has her own issues. I can’t believe that it’s been almost a year and mothers ashes aren’t buried. It’s obvious I’m being taken for a ride yet I have no rights.

    1. Who says you have no rights? If you are a beneficiary, you have rights. You haven't said that you're a beneficiary but I'm assuming that your reference to a "second inheritor" means that you are talking about yourself as the first one.

      You have the right to an efficient winding up of the estate. You have the right to be treated equally (in terms of the executor's favoritism) with other beneficiaries. You have the right for the executor not to waste estate assets by, for example, falling to charge rent to people who live there.

      You don't have to accept the situation. Perhaps talk to a lawyer local to you who can examine the will and discuss exactly what can be done.



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