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Acting as a Trustee

By Kay Wilson-Bolton

 

t is an honor to be asked to serve as trustee of someone’s estate. But before you accept, do some research on the scope of responsibilities.

In a recent sale of a home, I worked closely with the trustee. Together we learned that the honor can quickly take a turn to misgivings and stress.

In this case, the owner had left fairly specific instructions about who among her heirs would receive which items. She even designated her REALTOR® of choice. She had no children; and all but one relative, the trustee, lived out of state.

Her elderly heirs had to rely on the cousin for his integrity, which, in this case, turned out to be impeccable.

I remember standing with the trustee and his wife in front of his aunt’s large home, contemplating the task ahead and deliberating with them about where to start. The bricks around the walkways were trip hazards, the landscaping had become very rough, the roof had leaked, and the rooms were filled with memorabilia from another time. Then there were the 82 empty plastic butter tubs!

As we contemplated our first move, it occurred to me that they should view the project as though we were eating an elephant — and tackle it one bite at a time. While it seemed like a silly comment, it turned out to be a good approach.

We toured the property and made a list of repairs that should be made and who would do them, and in what order. We initiated all the reports we would need for the sale.

They took an inventory, room by room, determined what could be recycled or given thoughtfully away, what items were earmarked and which resembled other gifts identified but not marked.

They combined tasks where they could, kept detailed notes of visits to the home, tasks done that day, expenses, tasks that remained and who would be responsible for completing them. This included everyone from the gardener to the estate sale managers.

It was often difficult to separate the business at hand from the sentimental task of dispersing a loved one’s earthly possessions.

There were two daunting issues. One was the treasured companion cat, who was still residing in the home. The other was what to do when items designated for a specific person could not be found.

Fortunately, a thoughtful neighbor came along to take Socks to her new home, and considerable research revealed that the mystery items had already been given to the new owner, but were not noted on the list.

It took about 30 days to prepare the home for sale, and the sale period took about 45 days, occurring just prior to the trustee’s long-planned vacation.

The escrow closed on time and all ended well — but only because of the good teamwork involved and the integrity and commitment of the trustee to carrying out the wishes of a beloved aunt.

When the escrow closed and they handed me a magnificent hand-carved elephant as a reminder of our mutual task, I realized that I had been blessed by participating in closing a chapter in the life of a beloved school teacher, represented by two stellar people who had long ago earned her trust.

06-01-2006

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