practice areas

When a family member names you as the executor of his or her estate, you have a responsibility to act in accordance with his or her wishes and California state law. But what happens when a dispute arises among two or more beneficiaries? 

Take these steps to manage disagreements about a loved one’s estate when you are serving as executor. 

Consider liquidating assets 

Some of the most common estate disputes involve real estate and other tangible assets, such as jewelry, collections, furniture or automobiles. When the deceased person did not clarify his or her wishes for certain items in the will, family members may argue about who should receive the item in question. In the case of real estate left to more than one person, disputes often involve the use of the property. In these cases, the executor may choose to sell the item and divide the proceeds evenly. 

Consult a fiduciary 

If one or more beneficiaries feels that you cannot distribute assets fairly, you may want to defer this part of your role to a fiduciary. This financial professional specializes in the equitable division of estate assets in contest. However, the beneficiaries must agree on the person to serve this role, which could be an attorney or accountant, as well as agree to pay these costs out of the estate. 

Create a protocol for household items 

Sometimes, family members fight about items that do not necessarily have monetary value but are rich with sentimental value. Examples include jewelry, clothing, cookbooks, photos and family heirlooms. When beneficiaries disagree about the fate of this type of property, consider establishing a fair way to divide items equally. For example, you may use a lottery system or let each heir take turns choosing something sentimental. 

As the executor, keep careful records of actions involving the estate. If one or more beneficiaries or family members pursue litigation, you will need documentation of your adherence to the responsibilities inherent in your role.