If you’re drawing up a will, this seniors’ tale may prompt you to reconsider who you’ll name as executor.
Maud and Stephanie, spinsters in their early 80s, had been close friends for 15 years before Maud died naming a trust company as her executor.
Always well paid in a responsible job, she had lived frugally renting a 650 square foot, two-bedroom apartment. Forsaken by estranged family who nevertheless hovered like vultures waiting to divvy up her possessions, in the final months before her death she revised her will leaving 90 percent of her $500,000 estate to Stephanie, the other 10 percent to another friend.
Maud’s will stipulated Stephanie and the other friend were to help themselves to whichever of her possessions they chose – jewellery, fine pieces of furniture, high end clothing. Leftovers were to be donated to Goodwill.
Every executor’s initial responsibility is to physically safeguard assets and documents by sealing the property from unauthorized visitors, and itemizing the assets to record what they are. This Maud’s trust company failed to do.
Relatives with door keys swooped in to cherry pick her belongings. (Who gave them Maud’s keys?)
Charged to probate this simplest of wills, the trust company assigned Maud’s file to an insolent junior clerk. When Stephanie phoned with questions, or to request a meeting, this clerk snapped, “I’m too busy to talk to you”, or, “I have no time to meet with you.”
Stymied and demoralized by this clerk’s supercilious treatment, Stephanie shared her tribulations with a confidant, recounting actions far beyond the ethical realm of responsible executor behaviour:
Instead of boxing Maud’s few remaining belongings, putting them in storage, and vacating the apartment, the trust company continued to rent Maud’s essentially empty apartment for seven months, squandering $14,000 of Maud’s estate. Why? Does the apartment manager have a friendly arrangement with this trust company? In addition, the trust company paid $4,150.12 for 67 hours of apartment cleaning by a subcontractor. Cleaning was explained to include sorting through Maud’s files, destroying any documents the subcontractor deemed worthless.
What credentials did the subcontracting cleaning company have for perusing Maud’s private documents and what, if any, qualifications for deciding which documents were only trash?
And despite Maud’s will clearly specifying once her two heirs had chosen what they wanted to keep, anything left over was to be donated to Goodwill, the trust company sold her leftovers at auction. Photos purporting to show movers parked to haul away Maud’s leftovers are not closed Goodwill trucks. They look like disposal trucks.
Stephanie’s confidant was stunned to learn of this executor’s breaches, greeting one revelation after another with a “Wow!” of disbelief.
At the least, the trust company appears to have breached their contract with Maud, putting her assets at risk, ignoring her specified wishes. But what recourse does Stephanie have? Since the apartment was never sealed or Maud’s belongings itemized, what proof does Stephanie have of what may or may not have existed before unauthorized persons raided Maud’s apartment and helped themselves?
She can hire a lawyer to take on the trust company, or she can contact the appropriate ombudsperson. Each financial company has its own ombudsperson to investigate clients’ complaints.
So name a trust company to file taxes, along with a trusted personal friend as co-executor to watch over the trust company.