Some Challenges for Estate Trustees

February 11, 2015 Hull & Hull LLP Executors and Trustees 0 Comments

When selecting an estate trustee, you want to choose someone competent, readily available and, above all, trustworthy. This is because estate trustees are assigned power and responsibility to administer an estate. Accordingly, testators generally choose a close friend or family member to carry out their wishes after they die. Whether you designate someone close to you or a professional to take charge, the individual(s) can come across problems along the way.

A variety of duties accompany the role of estate trustee. For example, section 24(1) of the Estates Administration Act requires a personal representative to “make reasonable inquiries for persons who may be entitled by virtue of a relationship traced through a birth outside marriage”. Searching for beneficiaries can be a difficult task that encounters barriers such as geography, language and family dynamics. Some other issues can be just as challenging and complicated for representatives.

Another common issue arises where two or more estate trustees of one estate hold conflicting ideas about how to proceed. Estate trustees are charged with making many decisions along the way and, often when emotions come into play, individual estate trustees have differing opinions as to what the deceased person “would have wanted”.

The distribution or disposal of a testator’s personal property can present another challenge to an estate trustee when administering an estate. An issue may arise in respect of the obligation bestowed on estate trustees to preserve the value of the estate assets. Finding the proper method of determining fair market value and then attempting to receive that value for the item can present a challenge. Take, for example, a collection of memorabilia left behind by a testator in a small town. The items may be valuable but only to a select group of collectors. Options for the estate trustee include holding an estate sale of all personal property (including the collection), having the memorabilia sold at auction or holding an online auction for collectors living outside of the immediate area to bid on. Any of the foregoing options should follow an appraisal by an approved individual or organization. This ensures the estate trustee knows the fair market value and can act accordingly when agreeing to a sale, thus fulfilling their duty.

Estate trustees may also choose to hire a company to assist with the disposal of personal property. These companies organize staff that attend the home, and prepare and follow through with an estate content sale. Outside help can alleviate some of the work of an estate trustee, especially in the case of a deceased who left behind many personal items. Hiring a company that is accredited would likely provide comfort to the estate trustee that they are complying with their duties.

Thank you for reading,

Suzana Popovic-Montag

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