Shiff & Company Lawyers Melbourne

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Estate Administration - A Family Matter

Julia Adams - Thursday, May 16, 2013

Administering even a fairly simple Estate may involve the Executor interacting with the Supreme Court, banks, VicRoads, Land Registry, Births, Deaths & Marriages, the Administration and Probate Act, Trust Accounts, Estate Agents, cleaners, valuers, perhaps a nursing home or retirement village, maybe a share broker or registry, accountants, the ATO, and likely a Superannuation Trustee (or two, or three).

And if it’s complex, or disputed, an Executor might throw in ASIC, the Government Gazette, barristers, mediators, Directions Hearings, Consent Orders, actuaries, Trust Deeds or Terms of Settlement, to name a few.

Not to mention the beneficiaries.

The burden of all of this is commonly borne by someone who is (a) grieving; and/or (b) completely without experience in Estate administration, or legal matters full stop.

Some recent experience and candid client feedback has been invaluable as a reminder of just how complex and difficult a task it can be to administer an Estate, and how the last thing we want to do as a Estate lawyers is add to the burden instead of relieve it. We never want to be another item on the list of unpleasant things an Executor has to ‘deal’ with.

In recent months we’ve been assisting a client who is the Executor of two family Estates. The client also happens to be the relative of a staff member.

One approaches such a task with a particular trepidation: a family member is going to notice, and tell you, if you don’t make something clear, or make it more difficult than it needs to be. You may have the benefit of more knowledge of the background to the matters and the family dynamics, but you will also see the stress first-hand. You need to get everything right and make it as simple as possible otherwise you will hear, and be embarrassed, about it forever. And in this instance, it was even more acute as the client was unsatisfied with the service they had received from another firm on Estate matters.

What came out of this particular experience, however, was both gratifying and invaluable. Foremost, it reinforced the necessity of always keeping in mind that an Executor is almost inevitably experiencing a period of high stress when dealing with an Estate, and that even someone who has years of experience as a lawyer or accountant or business person may never have dealt with Estate matters and the particular quirks involved in this area of the law.

Gratifyingly, it showed that the service our firm provides as a matter of course in Probate and Estate Administration does exactly what it is designed to do: make sure the Executor knows their rights and obligations, and make the Executor’s life easier.

We ensure, first, that an Executor or Administrator knows their rights and obligations, and what the consequences of certain decisions - such as distributing an Estate before six months has passed from the Grant of Probate – may be. We try to do so in a way that’s easy to understand, personal and not bogged down in legal jargon.

From there, we do everything from handling the entire calling in, investment and ultimate distribution of the Estate, to simply providing as many certified copies of Grants of Probate and Death Certificates as various banks and bureaucracies may require for Executors who are otherwise willing and able to undertake the administration themselves. And anything in between.

It may be that some Executors don’t need or want assistance beyond the initial Grant of Probate and advice about distribution, or they may need help in every aspect of the administration. Frequently they simply need someone else to spend hours on hold with a particular institution bouncing around between departments so that being an Executor doesn’t become a full-time job. We’re happy for that to be our job, not the Executor’s.

Regardless of an Executor’s needs, our approach is always to ensure that we’re relieving, rather than adding to, the burden.

Or, if you will, we approach every Estate client like they’re a member of our family.