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Sunday, January 22, 2017

Can the executor withhold his phone number from the beneficiaries?

In this blog, I talk a lot about communication between the executor and the beneficiaries. I'm always urging people to keep the information flowing, accurate and timely. But like any other principle, this concept must be taken in a common sense way. Recently a reader wrote me a short note asking about the logistics of executor-beneficiary communication. Here is her note and my response:

"Can an estate trustee communicate by email only with disagreeable beneficiaries? The trustee does not wish to give out their phone number."

I am perfectly fine with an executor not giving out his or her phone number to beneficiaries. There is no rule that says that beneficiaries must have 24/7 instant access to the executor.

Certainly communication between the parties is of utmost importance, but in this case the executor has offered another option - email. Presumably the executor will monitor the incoming emails and respond in a timely manner. Email allows for photos or documents to be exchanged, and information can be sent to several parties at the same time. This saves time, not to mention the confusion that arises when oral conversations are repeated from person to person.

In addition, an executor can organize his or her time more effectively when using email. The executor can respond at a time that is convenient. This is important since executors generally also have families, children, jobs, vacations, appointments, and other matters to fit into a day.

My approval of this concept presupposes that all parties have access to email. There isn't much point offering to communicate via email if none of the beneficiaries actually know how to use email. Not everyone does. This is particularly true of seniors, who may not be accustomed to living their lives online.

The concept also presupposes that email is available to everyone and is reliable. Those of us who live in cities sometimes forget that not everything is available in rural areas, or is only available intermittently. I encountered this myself while trying to communicate with a number of clients who live up north (i.e. Labrador). There were weeks at a time when email was either non-existent or so slow as to be pointless.

I'm sometimes tough on executors in this blog because I think some of them take way too many liberties with estates. But I know that beneficiaries can just as easily be belligerent or vindictive and make an executor's life miserable. I sympathize with executors who must deal with difficult beneficiaries. I wouldn't want them calling me either.

13 comments:

  1. Indeed...my beneficiaries have my phone number but they all have access to Facebook and I chose to use the secret group functionality in Facebook. I think it made everyone's life easier in dealing with the estate. People have the option to ask the group a question and have a group answer or they can still send me a private message if they have a personal question.

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    1. I think that's a great idea. You have to try to preserve your family life and some kind of balance even while you're working on the estate.

      Lynne

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  2. Lynne, right on the money.
    I am an Executor. You should be tough on them as you would be on Beneficiaries. We both (E and B's) have a job to do, period.
    My sibling has made my life miserable for 11 years, not only by herself but with the help of lawyers. While this might sound a little suspect, how is it possible that a simple Estate case could go on so long? A Trial has been set. I will at one point email you names should a Trial take place. In the meantime, I have requested Motions to get the info that I as Executor, needs to resolve and settle my Estate Horror. I would like to see the basis of Brown V Rigsby applied to Beneficiaries. This could save so much money and valuable Court time. The lawyers of course would make way less money.

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    1. Believe it or not, some of us are okay with making less money on a given estate. I often try to steer folks into mediation or negotiations even though I'd make more money from that estate if it went to trial. It's not like there isn't enough work for us even if every estate we work on settles or goes to mediation. For most of us, particularly those of us who have been around for a while, the idea that lawyers will try to get all clients to litigate is a myth.

      Lynne

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  3. Both parents died 3months apart, they had terminal cancer. I was their caregiver, 24/7, their home was an apartment complex, I lived on bottom floor. I quit my job to be their caregiver and a bank account left by my father in survivorship was only money left for me to support myself afterward. Executor, found out and froze the account, I was unaware. Prior to that
    Executor made verbal agreement wanting me to stay on property and take care of it, so he would not have to hire anyone and guarantee it was ensured, he said. He told me he had to pay all the bills, power and electric regardless if I was there or not .I asked what I was expected to contribute , he laughed saying I can not pay rent to the Estate. He wanted me to do all the cleaning and packing of belongings.Told me I could stay till property sold and would bring a realtor no date given.He lives out of town.He removed many items from the Estate that for himself that was suppose to be divided equally with beneficiaries. I contacted Executor upset why the bank account was frozen and he emailed me to cease and desist communication with him. I have been unable to leave the property without funds and move for a job out of town. I hired a lawyer and asked for an interium distribution, to allow me to move, I was
    ignored. Executor not explain any finacial assets of parents to me and one other beneficiary. After one year, Executor gave my lawyer a bank accounting from mother's estate. He admitted to withdrawing large sums of cash for payment of Executor fees and expenses to himself, as well as a joint account he held with my mother he withdrew large amounts of money from it as well. Yet he has not contributed the joint account to the Estate., and has frozen my joint account held with my father. He now is demanding I pay rent money and not receive my inheritance lump sum from the will as stated to do so. The Estate is to
    be divided equally with the 3 beneficiaries and property sold. I have been unable to find employment and another reason forced to stay to have a roof over my head. The Executor can not rewrite the will to remove my inheritance money as stated. I have asked that if I am asked to contribute something toward living on the property and maintaining it, it should come out of my share of the sale of the property. This is the only fair thing to do. If the verbal agreement was not made ,that I do caretaker duties on property in exchange for living there and not paying rent; I would have made other arrangements. I would have applied for social assistance long ago. But instead hired a lawyer which ate up my money needed just to survive. The Executor has not been truthful with me and I have held up my verbal agreement, he has not made any movement to selling the property and could have hired someone to take care of it other than myself since he wanted to maintain the power/electric/water etc for the property, including the empty apartments that have water heater rentals. I have gone through hell as a caregiver and now disinherited by Executor. He lives out of town and after I leave the property it is highly unlikely that he will distribute 1/3 sale of it to me or the other beneficiary. He has taken everything.
    At the least am I not entitled to my bank account held in survivorship with my father?

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  4. I have read quite a number of Estate Horror stories. This is one of the saddest and most bizarre. One gigantic mess. It appears that everything has gone wrong and then some. You mention 2 other beneficiaries (residuary?) What do they have to say? Are they going to let the Executor do as he pleases with impunity?Without money how can you get continued representation? Surely, there must be someone out there can can help you.
    Avoid verbal responses as much as possible and get everything in writing. "He said, she said" has little weight in Court. The Court is interestd in the 'legal' not the 'moral' aspect of the case. IMHO

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  5. Many people to not have access to email or Facebook.
    Therefore an executor can, should, and probably would be open to written mail.

    I can understand an executor might not want to give 24/7 access to benficiaries, and at the same time there are many MANY beneficiaries who cause an executor to want everything these people say to be in some written form.
    It prevents all the 'he said, she said' arguments.

    If people do not have access to email, and the exec prefers it, the question they need to ask is, "How, then, may I contact you?"

    The answer they get will be most revealing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree, there must be some reliable form of communication available that all agree may be used.

      Lynne

      Delete
  6. In response to post by -Lynne Butler-January 23, 2017 at 8:23 PM
    I agree. Most lawyers would rather not go to Trial. When lawyers settle out of Court generally both lawyers come out winners. When they go to Trial one of them has a chance of being a loser, unless they work out some kind of deal. The Judge also plays a role in all of this. Nothing is ever certain in Court. As a lawyer lawyer said to me "there is no reason for lawyers to go after each other , as there is plenty of work for all". This I believe to be the case in smaller cities/towns where they bump into each other frequently. After all, they are just doing a job. Like the phrase "it's a dirty job but some has to do it" :)
    The lawyers in my case do not want to go to Trial for many reasons, reasons that I cannot discuss at this time. I do not want to go to Trial, but a residuary beneficiary will not comply on many counts. It is very expensive, and a great deal of work, for which I will never be compensated for, except for executor fees, and yet, the opposition lawyer wants to prevent me from getting that. TBC

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    1. I disagree with your suggestion that lawyers will avoid going to trial because one of them will come out being a loser. We're not all as bad as you seem to think. In fact, I know a hell of a lot more decent lawyers than I do unscrupulous ones.

      If a client's case is weak compared to that of the other party, it is our job to reveal that to the client and to suggest that they settle. It's the client's money that gets wasted on a pointless trial, not ours. We get paid for the work even if we lose, so it's not fair to say we discourage trials because we don't want to lose.

      The reality is that the average client believes that he is right, and because he is right, he will win. Getting the idea across that he might not be able to PROVE he is right is sometimes impossible. There is no way in the world a lawyer can make a client like that happy. If we go to trial with a weak case, we are accused of doing a bad job and misleading the client. If we talk him out of going to trial, we are accused of preferring not to lose for personal reasons.

      Being a lawyer is not a "dirty job". If a lawyer finds that his or her job is dirty, he or she is doing it wrong. The legal system we have is adversarial but lawyers are not the adversaries - the clients are. People who access the legal system should stop assuming and believing that a lawyer personally approves of every thing that every client does. Our job is to defend them or advocate for them, not to judge or approve. Clients do stupid or unethical things. That doesn't mean we told them to, or that we are happy they did it. We just deal with it because we are their advocates.

      Most of my clients hug me, thank me, refer their friends and family to me, and drop by to say hello even when their cases are over. In no way is that a "dirty job".

      Lynne

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  7. Lynne,
    the executor of my mother's will is withholding the distribution our inheritance and the only communication method is email due to her living in another country. The executor is unresponsive and I am concerned she is misusing estate funds. What are my legal options? How can legal documents be served if she does not live here?

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    1. This is not a question that can be answered in a paragraph or two. If you'd like to discuss it with me, call my office at 709-221-5511 and schedule an appointment for a consultation. I charge $400 for the consult, which might last anywhere from 45 minutes to a couple of hours.

      Lynne

      Delete
  8. Lynne
    I can hardly believe that there are so many 'scumbag' Executors out there. The walk among us.
    As I previously wrote something has to be done about this. In my opinion, if Lawyers really wanted this ongoing crime to end they would push for the Estate Laws to be more strict and punish not only Executors, Beneficiaries but also Lawyer's who delay the process. The Judge re Brown and Rigsby got it right. She deserves to be congratulated. I intend to write and thank her.

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