Many of our Wake County clients have family that lives all over the country and the world. Their family may have traveled from near and far to attend the funeral, which often raises the question: while everyone is here, can we meet at the house to distribute the household furnishings and personal possessions?
Unfortunately, the answer is almost always, No. Only a legally appointed Executor or Trustee has the authority to manage and distribute assets of the Decedent. Until the Executor has been formally appointed by the Court or the Successor Trustee has been legally recognized, none of the Decedent’s possessions should be distributed.
In fact, we recommend that you consider changing the locks to the deceased’s home as quickly as possible. You’d be surprised at some of the stories we’ve heard of family members being surprised to discover that a child or sibling entered without permission and helped themselves to various items that “the deceased would have wanted them to have.” If you are the executor or trustee, it is your duty and obligation to ensure that the property is properly handled and distributed to the correct people at the appropriate time.
Even once you have been appointed as Executor or Trustee, you should proceed with caution. Often, household furnishings and personal possessions come with huge sentimental attachments and are one of the most common sources of family fighting when settling an estate.
The Will, Trust, or Personal Property Memorandum of the Decedent may include specific instructions regarding the proper distribution of household furnishings and possessions. As Executor or Trustee you can be held personally liable for improperly safeguarding and distributing the personal property, furnishings, and possessions.
Losing a loved one is hard. The days and weeks after a loss are often fraught with grief, questions, and unfortunately, family complications. It’s a terrible time to try to think through a legal process clearly. It’s often a challenge just to know where to start. Maybe you’re not even sure what questions to ask and whom to ask. How do you know you’re getting good advice and doing it right? You could probably use some help. Our Understanding Estate Administration guide can help. This guide will give you an overview of the probate and estate administration process in plain English. Request your free copy here.