Tips on Being an Estate Administrator in Texas

In July of 2014 my final parent passed away.  There was no will.  The only thing my siblings and I knew was that the estate was to be divided equally.  If you are out there reading this and thinking that such an understanding is enough I beg you to reconsider.  On to the list:

Do:
Read up on your role as administrator.  Know your rights and know your responsibilities (Google is your friend).  Execute those roles with as much grace and speed as you can muster.

Do:
Do have a funeral.  It does not have to be large.  It does not have to be complicated.  And for God's sake do not ask your siblings if they want to have one.  NOBODY wants to have a funeral and everyone will tell you they don't "need" one.  Set a date - get a licensed minister or a "religious" friend - put out a few lawn chairs and get it over with.

Do:
Ask around for options on burial or cremation.  We cremated both of my parents and the first one was much more expensive than the second one.


Do:
Create a will of your own.  A real one.  Not a piece of paper on which you scribble "I leave all my stuff to my wife." and sign your name.  That is not helpful.  Bear in mind that a will is not for you.  This has nothing to do with what you want, prefer or need.  You will be dead when it becomes a relevant topic.  It is meant to meet the needs of the people that are closest to you.

Do:
Along with creating a will - create an inventory.  A listing of your relevant assets and their location for estate considerations.  To this day we are unable to find certain valuable assets that we knew our parents owned.

Do not:
If you can avoid it, do not spend your own money.  I made the mistake of using my own money to pay off a few credit cards and treat various expenses associated with the property.  Before I knew it I was in for $8000, the estate was cash-neutral with no outstanding debts - this gave my siblings the luxury of grandstanding on value of the property and how it should be disposed of.  If you are the administrator of the estate - notify the debtors of the situation and start putting them in line to get paid when the estate assets sell.  The idea here is that you use the threat of a creditor threatening to foreclose as impetus to move things along.  The human tendency is to slow down and wait.  But there is nothing to wait for - waiting only prolongs the grieving process.

Do:
Move forward rapidly.  If I had it to do over again I would have started clearing out the house the very next day and had a date certain no further than 30 days out to have the property on the market at a price that it would move.  If you take my money spending advice above - you have no choice but to approach it this way.  But in this scenario the creditors are the "bad guys" and not you.

Do:
Do make the assumption that everything in your parent' house is worthless.  Yes, worthless - unless they noted otherwise and even then use your own judgement.  Use an online resource like http://www.worthpoint.com/worthopedia to tell you the value of things.  It is eye opening.

Do not:
Do not bother with e-bay and craigslist unless you have time to waste.  Nobody buys anything.

Do not:
Do not make the mistake of becoming emotionally attached to what is left.  Your parent's and loved-ones are not their possessions.  Stuff is stuff and your loved one is gone.  Now that stuff is nothing but a barrier to your job as administrator - settle the estate.

Do not:
Have an estate sale - unless you are prepared to watch bottom feeders rummaging through your parents stuff - offering you a nickel for a trash bag full of clothes into which they stuffed a variety of "treasures" they found.  It is nauseating and depressing especially if you have not taken to heart the advice of being emotionally distant from the stuff.

Do:
Get a lawyer.

Do not:
Do not forget that the people you are dealing with are the only immediate family you have left.  Extend grace at every opportunity and realize that you are not the only one hurting, you are not the only one making concession, you are not the only one not getting everything you want.

Do:
Be proactive about the financial aspects.  Comb through any existing records - you never know if you will find unexecuted stock options or an old life insurance policy that was never cashed in.

Do:
Read the Deed and other paperwork for your parent's property.  I know it is boring, read it.  Or send it to an attorney.  My parents swore they owned the mineral rights on their property.  They didn't, but it was an interesting thought.  Technically, they "might" have but in looking into it it would have taken months (if not years) to settle that claim.  Mineral rights are incredibly messy.

Do not:
Underestimate how money complicates everything.  The wreckage caused over the past year has been painful.

Do:
Bring emotional support with you to the estate hearing.  I went with my in-laws and it was rough.  At the estate hearing the state acts as a "grantor" of a will.  Seeing as there wasn't a will in my case, the state has to determine who has rights to the estate.  Fortunately, my state is very liberal with granting all those rights whereas others essentially put themselves in the role of administrator and gum up the works.  But to stand before a judge and to hear a legal proceeding in which the state is acknowledging that your parents are dead - is hard to hear.  They typically have tissues available at the bench.

Do:
Talk to multiple realtors and ask them for a workup on how they would approach the market and sell the house in 45 days.  We made the mistake of picking a realtor that was not close by.  I heard they were often late for showings.  I recommend picking a realtor that lives as close to the house you are trying to sell as possible.  It makes sense on so many levels.

Do not:
Believe everything you read about estates - even this list?

Soaring high above the earth on our wings of glass
Upon every moment - all time must pass

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