Over the last year I’ve had to serve as executor to two estates, my father-in-law’s estate and my wife’s estate. But these were not my first experiences at this task. I had to close out my parent’s estates both in 2003. It’s challenging. It’s frustrating. It gives you no time to grieve for the one you lost. Attorneys are constantly asking for this information or that information. In the meantime you have to sift through years of paperwork, discover accounts, locate documents, and try to figure out where everything was stored. There is no time for anything. No time to relax. No time to watch a little television. Then if you have to sell off a house or other property, the workload increases dramatically with having to clean out a house filled with decades of accumulated things, trash the junk and the worthless, sell off the better stuff for pennies on the dollar, list the house for sale, deal with realtors who only really care about turning over the house as fast as possible, negotiate the final sale, file all the necessary paperwork and file final taxes. Multiply the complexity of having to deal with estates from a different state than the one you live in with each state wanting a piece of your pie and it is at times enough to make you go crazy.
Even working with an attorney can be a massive drain on your energy and your well being. Then friends and relatives (if you still have any) begin to wonder why you have changed. You never seem to have time for them. You never have time to go out, to go to the movies, or to one of the parks. And when you do go, they think that you are insensitive about the loss of your loved one. It’s kind do mind numbing. People may say ‘Can we help?’ But what can they really do? Trips to the courthouse, lunchtime meetings with banks and attorneys, going to the post office to send registered mail, and countless phone calls that you must take during work because these other people do not work evenings or weekends even though you boss is angry with you for taking personal calls while you are at work. Dealing with insurance firms and investments who require a dozen different documents to prove the other person is really dead and you have the rights to handle the estate. Paying expenses out of your own pocket until the estate can free up some accounts and give you access to them. Balancing other peoples checkbooks. The list goes on and on and sometimes you just wish that you had gone first and no one understands why you seem so worn out and down. After all, it has been 3 months since the other person died. But estates can take months if not years to completely resolve and close. Perhaps for the dead, it is one final cruel joke to play on the living to account for all the things you should have done while they were alive but didn’t.
Eventually you get close to finishing everything and you just want to sit back or lay down, rest, and do nothing. But others tasks have been pilling up. You want to take time to grieve but it has been so long that the feelings of loss have dulled. maybe it is also from all the aggregation of closing the estate. So while you feel an emptiness, maybe even a bit of loneliness, the pain of your loss is mostly gone. You tend to remember more of the good times, not the bad times. You begin to plan on how to move forward again. How to find meaning in each day again. This is another time that relatives may call you cold and uncaring, and that hurts more than your loss because you have made peace with your loss. You have worked through your feelings while you struggled to close the estate. You want to move on but they don’t want to let you. They keep trying to pull you back to a state of grief that you have already left behind. They don’t understand that it is over. That it is time for a new chapter.
Sure executors get paid for handling the estate. A whopping 2% which unless you are executor for a large estate ode an estate with many heirs is nothing. Certainly not considering the stress and aggregation. And especially not if you are the only one to inherit the estate anyway. Especially not if the work places your job/career in danger. Did I tell you about the judge who almost wanted me to post a bond so I would not steal money from myself?
So another year is about to start. I’m close to closing these two estates. I don’t know for sure what the new year will bring. There are some bright spots to focus on. My final recommendation to you the reader is that if anyone asks you to be their executor for their estate, try if at all possible to avoid it. And if you must do it because there is no one else, find a good attorney who will guide you through the legal morass of estate law. Perhaps even consider some estate planning for yourself now like making sure all of your investments have beneficiaries or you could set up revocable trusts in your beneficiaries names while still retaining control. Perhaps that could be a New Year’s resolution.