I know I haven’t written regularly since before dad passed away. I have been overwhelmed with the process of probating his will and settling his estate. It is not the legal probate process that is so onerous. Instead it is the emotional turmoil and the family controversy that goes along with settling an estate.
Although I knew that at age 97, dad did not have long to live, even before his sudden heart attack. Nevertheless, I was overcome with grief and the inability to focus. I knew I was to be the executor and that there was a lot of work ahead of me.
However it was the dead of winter and the “polar vortex” was down and around us. I couldn’t even contemplate doing the things that needed to be done.
I had returned to my home community to be with dad during his last illness. My children were with me at the hospital and hospice until dad passed. They went with me as I went to make funeral arrangements and to start the legal process with the estate lawyer.
I don’t deal with winter very well and don’t drive on snow or in the dark. I told the lawyer and the funeral director that I had to finish everything by the end of the week so I could return to my vacation rental. I would take care of most matters upon my return, and what couldn’t wait would be done by telephone, mail or overnight couriers.
My neighbor brought in my mail for me and my son forwarded it to me once a week. From my southern retreat I dealt with the issues that couldn’t wait.
One of the first tasks was to write an obituary for dad and determine where it would run. When mom passed, we chose two newspapers, one in their home town and one in their winter community. But by now, dad hadn’t been in the winter community for 4 years and many of their friends had passed on. Instead I ran the obituary only in their home community, where friends and relatives remained. I sent a note to the senior community where mom and dad had spent winters for several decades and asked that it be posted on their bulletin board.
The obituary that we published also had an online component and some friends from the south also wrote condolences there. I received many cards that were forwarded to me, and my brother, who lived in dad’s house, also received cards. I sent personal notes to everyone who had written their condolences.
The other pressing issue was dad’s final checks from both Social Security and his work pension. I had to be sure those were returned. It is easier with Social Security to have the bank return the deposit or Social Security recoup it because all dad’s checking accounts had to be closed immediately upon his death.
I couldn’t make any checks from the estate for months — until the letters of testamentary were issued by the court. I did get a letter from Social Security and called dad’s bank to please send the funds back. I thought it would add too much confusion if I sent a personal check and the bank told me that as a rule, Social Security does just take the funds back. That worked out well for me.
Because bills were coming every day, and I was anxious to begin paying them, I called the lawyer asking about opening an estate account. He reminded me that I was not the executor until the surrogate court declared me to be the executor. That meant that the will naming me executor had to be accepted by the surrogate court and the court had to issue letters of testamentary stating that I was the executor and giving a tax number so the estate could open bank accounts.
In the end it took 2 months to get the letters of testamentary because my brother refused to sign the papers he had received. Signing the papers would mean he accepted me as the executor. My sister signed quickly as she wanted the estate to be settled. However, my brother wanted to delay at every step.
I have stated before that my brother was a hoarder and he lived with my parents. He didn’t want to vacate the house and was using every method he could come up with to delay the entire process.
Finally I asked my lawyer what we could do to make him sign the papers. I knew my brother did NOT want to be the executor. We were both present when my parents wrote and signed their wills in their lawyer’s office. He knew they wanted me to be executor. The estate lawyer called my brother’s lawyer and I think his lawyer told him he has to sign or the court will order him to. Anyway after a delay he signed and the court issued the letters of testamentary.
With the letters of testamentary I was able to open an estate checking account and finally begin paying dad’s medical and other bills.
I won’t write any more today but I did think I would continue to spell out a bit more about how the whole estate settlement process can take so much time and cause so much stress. If siblings get along the whole thing can be settled quickly and easily. But if one heir wants to slow down the process, there are many ways he can do so.