Michigan Personal Representative and Trustee Duties: When Siblings Can't Agree How To Jointly Administer an Estate or Trust

Inventory of estate assets document

If siblings or other family members are co-personal representatives administering an estate, or co-trustees of a trust, then they both have decision-making power. But if they are at odds with one another or disagree on how the trust or estate should be handled, this will delay timely administration.

These types of trust and estate administration disputes can be very costly, often leading to tens of thousands of dollars spent in extra legal fees. Plus, disagreements between those in charge delay distributions to heirs and can impact how debts and obligations are paid to creditors. No one wants the legacy of a departed loved one to be tarnished by feuding between those who were put in charge of respecting that legacy.

Duties of Personal Representatives and Trustees

Trustees and personal representatives are fiduciaries, with strict duties to the heirs and beneficiaries of an estate or trust. That means that those in charge must follow the instructions of the decedent, comply with the law, and place the interests of the beneficiaries ahead of their own. It’s a complicated job to do even without conflict between fiduciaries.

Personal representatives and trustees must carry out a number of tasks to fulfill their duties, starting with sending proper notice to those who have an interest in the estate or trust, followed by inventorying and safeguarding the assets. This includes verifying title of real estate property and locating all investment and bank accounts, as well as protecting personal property. Investments can be tricky — converting risky stocks or mutual funds into more conservative holdings is often prudent. And deciding whether to fix up real estate, when to sell or lease it, or perhaps allowing a family member to live in the home, can also be problematic.

Those placed in charge of administration must also notify creditors, pay debts of the decedent, and resolve any claims or lawsuits that may spring up — either against or in favor of the estate or trust. This is often far from simply paying final bills, especially when family members claim that they are owed money or that a trust beneficiary borrowed money and should pay it back. Certainly addressing debts includes the creditor no one likes to deal with — Uncle Sam. Preparing and filing final income tax returns, estate or trust returns, and taking advantage of all available tax deductions (especially when very large estates or trusts are involved) can be complex.

And, of course, one of the frequently-complicated issues to address is distributions. When do they start? How much to hold back? What gets sold to generate cash? How do you balance the interests of current beneficiaries versus residual beneficiaries? Many estates and trusts are a lot more complex than simply cutting checks after everything is sold.

These are only some of the duties that apply to administration of estate and trusts. Hiring experienced estate and trust attorneys is very important to making sure the job gets done right.

What Happens When There Are Multiple Personal Representatives Who Cannot Agree?

Disagreements affecting any of the fiduciary duties could be potential for significant breakdowns. Even relatively small disagreements, if insurmountable, can stall more important duties still to be carried out. Siblings or others who are co-personal representatives or trustees are jointly responsible for making decisions and both can potentially be held responsible for breaches of duty. it is critical to develop a good working relationship early on, with open communication.

If co-fiduciaries cannot agree about how the estate or trust will be administered, such as when to sell a house, how to manage investments, who should receive what personal property, and the timing of distributions, then often serious conflict can arise. In some cases where disputes lead to lawsuits, a probate court will appoint a neutral third party to administer the trust or estate instead. This could be a bank or attorney, for example, and will often cause more expense and delays than when family members are able to resolve their differences peacefully.

Often, when disagreements arise, mediation can be very important to help resolve the conflicts before expensive court proceedings lead down a road that no one wants to travel. Experienced probate mediators can help co-trustees or personal representatives overcome their differences and get back on the same page.

If you or someone you know is facing difficulty with multiple personal representatives administering an estate, or co-trustees of a trust, and you are worried about protecting your rights or the interests of the beneficiaries, contact the experienced Michigan trust and estate law firm of Barron, Rosenberg, Mayoras & Mayoras P.C. today for a free, confidential consultation. Call (248) 213-9514 or fill out our online form.

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