Can I distribute personal property after Mom's service?

5 answers | Last updated: Oct 30, 2017
Annesdesk asked...

As Executor, may I distribute my mother's personal property - no house or car - just furniture, some jewelry, handmade items, family heirlooms when the family gathers for her service. I would not distribute accounts until meeting with legal representation, but it would be convenient to make use of the family being together for personal items. I didn't know if I could or what type of accounting would be needed for her few items. Thank you

Expert Answers

Barbara Repa, a senior editor, is an attorney, a journalist specializing in aging issues, and the author of Your Rights in the Workplace (Nolo), now in its 10th edition.

Your plan sounds sane and sensible"”and may even save on shipping costs and provide for some touching moments and memories.

As executor, you just must be sure your plan doesn't violate any of the legal duties that come with the position. Your most basic obligation is to take care of the property involved"”prevent it from being damaged or lost and keep it adequately insured if that is necessary. It sounds as if you have that covered.

If the will has left fairly specific directions about what person or organization is to get what property, your task will also be made much easier. You need only to follow directions to fulfill the biggest part of your duties.

The one thing to bear in mind that could put a crimp in your plans is that any debts your mother owed at her death must be satisfied from the estate property"”generally money accounts first, but it is sometimes necessary to sell off estate property to satisfy debts. And while the debts may seem straightforward, as executor, you will need to run a legal notice in a local newspaper announcing the death and alerting any creditors that they can apply to the estate for compensation.

So if your mother had sizable or was likely to have unknown debts that may need to be satisfied from the estate assets, it can be risky business to distribute them too quickly, before the debts are settled.

Whether you decide to distribute the property at once or wait to do it later, you would be wise to keep a careful inventory of what property gets distributed to which people or places.

If the will has not left specific directions for some of the property, but just notes it should "be divided equally" or some such, note that you may need to get the property appraised to determine its value before dispersing it.

Community Answers

Lindasue answered...

This "can be where the rubber meets the road" ~ proceed with caution. I guess you are assuming the entire family will have gathered. If this is not the case, any distribution of goods could knock the blocks out from under an otherwise solidly formed family. We were blessed that my mom-in-law labled her personal items with the names of family members on the backsides or undersides of each of them. There was no doubt which family member was on her heart when she made her decisions. All felt so blessed to have been thought of so perfectly. Good luck !

Leggslady answered...

When a close friend of mine died, we had a party as such at my house with all his close friends. That was the way he wanted it. I brought all of his photo albums over for people to look at and I asked them all to take the photos that meant something to them or photos of themselves. The albums were full of people I did not know and I still have some pictures. At a later date I was contacted by a distant family member for some of the photos and other informtion.

As I began to clean out his house, I gave the things he had told me about to the people I knew he meant to have them. There were and still are some hurt feelings because I would not give away the car or some other items that had to be sold to pay for the funeral and other expenses.

As I prepare to deal with my father's house and his possessions, I a, going to proceed with caution. There is no taking back when the possesion is given and know that everyone will not be happy with the way it is handled. I say don't look back, have no regrets, be honest, and do the best you can. This is not a job that is easy to do.

Zellazm answered...

My sister and I decided NOT to distribute mementos or anything else during my dad's funeral weekend (Mom died two years earlier). I had been warned by cousins and other friends that had given away things too hastily and regretted it afterwards. I was also concerned that someone might feel slighted. Instead, I told the gathered clan that they should let me know what they would like to have, I would put it on a list, and sis and I would discuss it, and we would send, deliver, or have them pick up the things later. Unfortunately, Mom and Dad were not specific about the "stuff." They had a large circle of friends, and too many nieces and nephews to count so making sure everyone gets something is going to be difficult. It also looks like there may be just enough cash to cover the bills, so we don't have the freedom to give away the few valuables they owned (a few pieces of jewelry and antique furniture). I'm the executor and I know this won't be the first of the difficult decisions I'll have to make!

Colvergal answered...

I am in the middle of settling my parents estate. We are getting ready to divide the household items, etc among siblings. One sibling feels that oldest goes first and I feel that its only fair to draw straws. Why is oldest to youngest fair? Any thoughts.