Can I distribute personal property after Mom's service?

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 Answer

Barbara Repa, a Caring.com 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.