January 8th, 2018 by Nancy Ling

Are you the executor of an estate who is struggling due to a poor relationship with the estate beneficiaries? Acting as the executor of an estate can be a difficult job. Unfortunately, it can be made even more trying if the relationship between the executor and the estate beneficiaries is antagonistic. There are many aspects of estate administration that are answered in the law, and others that are purely interpersonal. This article will explore a few common difficulties that arise between executors and beneficiaries, and some tips for avoiding or addressing them.

Communicate Timeline Expectations

One frequent issue relates to people’s expectations around how long it takes to receive an inheritance. Most people do not realize that it can be a long and drawn out process. For that reason, the law makes it clear that no one can compel an executor to distribute an estate for at least a year. Quite frequently, winding up an estate will take longer than a year. Delays can include the processing time of the Court Registry, the mandatory timelines set out in the Wills, Estates and Succession Act, the time it takes to find and liquidate assets, and the processing time of the Canada Revenue Agency. If the executor clearly communicates with the beneficiaries around timelines at the outset, they are less likely to begin prematurely rushing the executor.

Be Transparent

Another major issue relates to the management of the finances and expenses of the estate. Transparency and keeping an open dialogue will often prove helpful in making the beneficiaries comfortable with how the estate monies are being handled. Executors should keep detailed and careful records of all withdrawals from estate funds. If there are going to be delays or difficulties in liquidating estate assets, for example, selling a house in a turbulent market, sending out updates to the beneficiaries can sometimes alleviate their concerns.

Keep the Beneficiaries Informed

Keeping the beneficiaries informed in the work the executor is doing can also be helpful if the executor intends to claim remuneration for doing the job. An executor is entitled to claim an executor’s fee up to a maximum of 5% of the value of the estate. The executor’s fees are meant to be representative of the complexity and the amount of work involved to realize the estate. If the beneficiaries are kept informed of all the work the executor must do, they are less likely to begrudge the executor a reasonable remuneration.

Explain the Laws

Often, disputes arise merely because the parties do not understand the scope of the executor’s authority and discretion, or the reasons behind certain decisions are not properly understood. Many aspects of an executor’s job are driven by British Columbia estate laws, and the powers and discretion given to the executor in the Will.

Understand the Feelings Involved

Many estate disputes are driven by grief and sentimental attachments. The executor may want to ask beneficiaries if there are any particular items of sentimental value, even if there is no commercial value. For instance, you may avoid hurt feelings if you don’t drop off something at the dump or a goodwill store that has great emotional value to a party. On the other hand, you may also avoid trouble if you properly inventory items and do not give people the opportunity to take things from the house unbeknownst to you.

In conclusion; good communication is key. Always consider how a disinterested third party would see things, because at the end of the day, it may be a judge that has to resolve the dispute. For that reason, the executor will also want to keep careful and thorough records. It is often a good idea to keep a log or a journal of your tasks, as you may forget seemingly unimportant things as time passes. You also want to be clear on what your legal duties and powers are. As ever, if you’re not sure, it is best to get legal advice.