A Public Service Announcement
As most, if not all, people who’ll see this know, 2015 was a lousy year in large part because of my mom’s rapid decline and ultimate demise. Lots of upset there, and to one degree or another, that is commonly understood. What I was not expecting, though, was the trauma that goes with being the executor of the estate. So, as a heads-up to anyone who may find themselves, at some future date, in the capacity of an executor, Trustee, attorney-in-fact, whathaveyou, here are a few things that would be helpful to know at the outset that I learned over the course of four months (and that have been backed up by others who have been in this situation):
- Know your documentation, know the lawyer that prepared it. You don’t want to be surprised later on to discover that important legal papers were done poorly or incorrectly or lost or destroyed before they ever became your problem. Find out straightaway if everything has been properly filed with proper agencies and if there are any prior documents that were superseded by what you have, and if there are, get your hands on those as well. You may find them necessary if the lawyer in question failed to dot any “I”s or cross any “T”s. And don’t let that lawyer keep the originals out of your hands without an agreement for access if necessary. Remember that these are legally-binding documents when you have to show them to banks and other institutions and rely on that.
- Expect trouble. If you expect every interaction you have with a bank, brokerage, creditor, or other institution to be perilous, you will be pleasantly surprised if/when it goes smoothly, which is far preferable to expecting them to do what you need them to and blowing your stack when they refuse. (Possible exception to the trouble expectation: retirement fund outfits. There’s still red tape to navigate, but they deal with this sort of thing as a primary part of their business and seem to be more sensitive and accommodating).
- The size of a financial institution is inversely proportional to the amount of cooperation they’ll give you. The big kahunas do not want to assist you, they want to avoid being sued, and the staff you’ll have to go through do not want to report any problems above their station. If you find yourself having to deal with a large bank or investment firm or anything like that, be prepared for lengthy hassles. The people you first deal with will prefer that you go away mad than actually help you with a problem because they are conditioned not to make waves with higher-ups. Also, I’m rather convinced now that at least some of these institutions will refuse to help you as a matter of policy. Whether it’s to protect themselves from “the threat of fraud” or that they don’t want to give up any capital they’re earning interest on or that it’s just perversely fun for them, it appears to be by design that they refuse these kinds of requests in hopes that you will just go away; they seem to believe that they are invincible because they are “too big to fail.” On the other hand, small banks, credit unions, etc., rely on service and are far less likely to give you a problem if there’s no legitimate reason for them to do so.
- If someone is not helping you, go over his or her head. The trouble with this is that you may not immediately know if someone is jerking you around or not. But once it’s clear, demand to speak to their boss, or even a peer. Someone else, at any rate, and keep moving up the chain, if necessary. If you know what you’re asking for is appropriate and legal, eventually you will get to someone who will help, even if it takes months and even if they only do it to avoid the involvement of lawyers. I went to eight branches of Wells Fargo bank before finding one that was run by a manager that put a value on service and whose staff was willing to work out the corporation’s problems with/for me while I waited. Even they were stymied by Wells Fargo corporate at times, but they made a large portion of what I needed from WF happen, even though it took a great deal of time for them as well as me. Meanwhile, I was dealing with a large well-known brokerage outfit that uses a bull in its logo (I now know they show the wrong end of the bull) that it took three-plus months to get anywhere with; the person they had assigned to my case was simply unwilling to do anything but regurgitate a script and demand things that she had no business demanding of me, or she would ignore me altogether. It took a great deal of persistence and getting different people on the phone to finally find one that was sympathetic and understanding of my situation and who took action. Once I did, the matter was resolved within 48 hours.
- Don’t be afraid to threaten legal action if you are certain you’re in the right. Getting a lawyer involved may be the only way to get an obstructive, assholish too-big-to-fail financial entity to cooperate. There were several occasions where I verified with a lawyer that a bank or firm had no basis for refusing my authority on accounts, and then on one occasion felt it necessary to play the “I can take you to court” card. It probably made a difference with the Bull outfit. (Of course, don’t play that card without knowing you’d have a real case to make. Check with your lawyer even if it seems bloody obvious, just in case.)
- Figure on a year or so before everything is settled. If your situation is like mine, you will be dealing with other family members or interested parties who are impatient for resolution to things. Too bad. If your situation has a competent lawyer, no ambiguity, no legal hiccups, few arguments with banks, then maybe it’ll only be a couple of months, but if so count yourself lucky. As for my own case, my current estimate is for things to settle out after a start-to-finish period of nine or ten months, but I won’t be surprised if more delays happen between now (the four-month mark) and then.
Anyway, the more you know, and all that. I went into this mess cold, expecting some delay in getting from A to B, but not expecting the kind of obstructions and runaround I’ve come to know is more or less standard. So, there you go. Your mileage may vary, but probably not by a lot.