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Friday, July 1, 2016

So, you think it's a good idea just to handle the estate yourself without telling the executor?

Even after all these years, I am astonished at the things people take into their own hands without even a clue about what they're doing. Legal rights are tossed to the wind when someone thinks they know a cheaper or easier way than the law prescribes. I know that sometimes people get away with these things because nobody else objects or realizes what's happening but that doesn't make it legal.

Recently a reader wrote me a note that literally made my jaw drop. He or she decided not to worry about small details like not being the executor and just barged forward with the estate, regardless of rights or laws. Read on for the reader's note and my comments.

"My father passed away. I am not the executor, a relative is, however I am just doing it myself to save money as everything was straight forward and I am paying all bills as they come in. I felt there was no need to probate. So far I have issued one cheque to myself and one to my sister in equal amounts, (as will states it is 50-50 between us) and we are leaving several thousand in the account to cover bills as they come in. Question we have just received a cheque to the Estate of my Father, so don't know what to do with it. Can we open an estate bank account if we did not probate and are not the Executor?"

What on earth are you thinking?

None of the things you've been deciding are legally your decisions. You didn't think probate was necessary? That's not your call. You didn't hand over the will to the executor? That's not just heavy-handed, it's unlawful. YOU WROTE CHEQUES TO YOURSELF?

I simply cannot believe how people stumble through these things without either landing in jail or being sued for everything they own. I suppose the worst doesn't happen simply because the other people around you don't have any more of a clue than you do and just let you get away with it because they don't know any better.

No, you can't open an estate bank account! Why on earth would you be allowed to do that? Do you honestly think just anyone can open an account for other people's money? Just to be clear here, you have absolutely no legal right to accept money addressed to your father's estate, nor to open accounts for him, and certainly not to write cheques to people out of his funds.

Naming someone as an executor is not just filling in a blank on a piece of paper. It conveys a legal right and a legal responsibility to fulfill the directions in the will. Your father chose someone to look after his affairs and it isn't you. You have simply stepped in and removed the executor's legal right to administer the estate because you felt like it. The executor could sue you for that. Does the executor know this is happening? Is he or she allowing the estate to be carried on by someone else with no legal authority? If so, you may have placed him or her in a dangerous legal situation as well.

Seriously, fix this, okay? Stop trying to open an estate account before the bank catches on to what you're doing and shuts everything down. Get together with the executor and hand over the original will and all your paperwork. Let the executor figure out how to salvage the situation and hope that he or she doesn't decide to sue the pants off you while setting all of this straight.

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