My Family Avoided an Estate Conflict — Will Yours?

Learn why handling someone's estate can get complicated.

When my father passed away, I learned I was the executor of the will. Like most people, I had no idea what I was supposed to do. But with the help of many online searches and a lawyer, I got it done.

Being an executor was harder than I imagined. In addition to all the legal and financial paperwork, you have to sort through your parent’s life and untangle it, discovering forgotten assets and debts. On average, it takes 570 hours of work. Nowadays, you can use an online tool to manage estate settlement, but back then it was a little tougher.

Read More: How to Write a Will That Protects Your Assets

In his later years, my father, like many parents, had turned into something of a pack rat. He had saved all sorts of things: furniture he inherited from his parents, ancient backpacking equipment, old copies of the Wall Street Journal (just in case) and so on. He didn’t have room to store everything in his home, and thankfully hadn’t turned into one of those “hoarders” you see on TV, so instead, he rented several storage units in various parts of town.

This was in Wyoming, though, so the storage units weren’t the modern ones with automated gate facilities and electronically monitored doors. Instead, these were sheds on random people’s properties, tin shacks fairly exposed to the elements. Everything inside was covered in a thick layer of dust and, I suspected, nests of various insects and rodents. It was a mess.

Do You Know? Why Paying for a Storage Unit Is Always a Terrible Idea

My sister flew out to Wyoming to help me, and while we accomplished a lot together, I have to admit that she and her son ended up doing more of the physical labor, going through all the items and trying to clean things out. Even so, there was just so much junk that we couldn’t handle it all. So, after we removed anything we wanted to keep, I ended up hiring a local auction house to sell off what they could and dispose of the rest. We didn’t get much.

However, in going through the various boxes, the auction team had discovered a collection of savings bonds all in my sister’s name. I was impressed that they had found the bonds and that they had the honesty to send them to me. I was also a little disappointed that none had been purchased for me, but who knows why? Perhaps mine had been cashed in to help pay for college, or perhaps mine had remained undiscovered in the junk and were now permanently buried in some landfill.

In any case, I sent the bonds to my sister and didn’t think anything more about it. It turned out, though, that those bonds had been continuing to collect interest over many years, and when she went to cash them in, they had grown to almost $30,000 (if memory serves).

My sister has always been amazing and very supportive, but her next move surprised even me. One day, I opened the mail to find a check from her — for half the proceeds.  My sister was working as a teacher’s aide in a public school system, so she didn’t make much money. She also wasn’t married at the time and had two kids around college age. In other words, money was tight. But she still sent me a check for roughly $15,000, perhaps almost half her annual take-home pay. There was absolutely no obligation, expectation or even thought that she would do that. I didn’t really need the money, and I was more financially secure than she was, but she still gave it to me. I very much appreciated the money (who wouldn’t?), but I appreciated her actions even more.

More on Loss of a Loved One: The Cost of Dying in All 50 States

If everyone had a sister like mine, there would be no estate conflict, and the world would be a better place. Unfortunately, not everyone does. A recent EstateExec study showed that 44 percent of people have been involved with or are aware of family conflict brought on by the estate settlement process. Some real examples include family branches never talking to one another again, a lawsuit that lasted nine years, and a brother and sister that haven’t spoken for over a decade.

One thing people can do to reduce conflict is to use a tool like EstateExec. This ensures everyone is kept informed regarding the status of the estate, since lack of information leads to suspicion and doubt and is a leading cause of this kind of conflict. If you do end up in a lawsuit, it’s also important to have records of everything you did, which EstateExec can provide.

Read More: The One Thing I Wish My Father Had Done

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