The stories of power struggle between siblings are too many to count. In 2023, the struggle continues to be played out in our probate courts and behind closed doors.
The system needs vast revamping to better meet the needs and generally valid concerns of the siblings who are not Personal Representatives (PRs). But to work through the current system, conflict may be lessened if the non-PR siblings better understood the Personal Representative’s job and the probate process.
Simply put, a probate estate administration is a process to transfer certain assets owned by a decedent to a living person. I think of this as “the Next New Owner.” The probate only controls assets owned by the decedent by themselves at death.
PR and Non-PR Siblings: What are their roles and responsibilities?
The Personal Representative (PR) makes business decisions regarding a deceased person’s property (land, cash, and other personal property), and only certain people have the right to be PR. Take a look at the graphic below to see what kind of property most people in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula have. The PR’s decisions about these assets directly affect the amount of inheritance the other siblings may receive.
Non-PR siblings don’t have the same rights to all information a PR gets. It’s frustrating. It’s the law. Yet, this disparity in the availability of understandable information that the PR receives versus the other siblings often creates mistrust.
Behind the scenes, the PR may be develop understanding of the ins and outs of the probate and the larger legal system. The non-PR siblings do not have the same advantage, and it doesn’t feel great feeling the impact of the larger system without understanding why that is happening. Let’s start diving deeper into these topics.
- The job of PR isn’t a prize. It’s a lot of work that involves heavy stuff. A PR’s lawyer basically provides them tools such as advice and documents to complete that job. The PR performs the day-to-day tasks required to pay creditors, make distributions, and close the estate. People see mistakes and you’ll have to ask for patience as you correct it. PRs, humble yourself, correct the errors, and be kind to yourself. You’re diving into new things. It’s better to check your ego and show some humility with others, especially as you navigate tough conversations and various personalities. Non-PRs, this a lot to navigate. Be kind and patient, but firm and diligent because of the next point.
- PRs have two bosses: their siblings, and then the judge. Oh my dear PRs, you’re not the boss. It only seems that way. You’re only the boss if things go smoothly. But when things are rough with your siblings, they have the right to file a petition to remove you from being PR. Don’t be distracted by the fact that those cases are hard to win. Be fair, don’t dodge your siblings, or appear secretive. Starting this from the beginning of the administration is essential for maintaining a foundation of trust and achieving a smooth conclusion. Non-PR siblings, give your siblings a chance to get it right before running to the court. Look out for a future article with tips on setting boundaries with your siblings so that you know how much of a chance to give them without things carrying on forever (Coaching is a great tool for this, too!).
- Promote equality towards all siblings. Some PRs are very close with some siblings and not others. Many of the “close” siblings are also the PR’s closest confidants. The PR’s need to consult their confidants conflicts with a non-PR sibling’s need to be treated equally as a beneficiary of the probate estate – at least in appearance. PR siblings, treating everyone equally is a constant balancing act, but putting a good system in place makes it easier. One way is to talk to everyone about hot issues (even if you favor one opinion over the others). Non-PR siblings, ask questions with patience. Telling-off the PR is a waste of time. Use the opportunity to listen to the PR’s reasoning, and try to find ways for you to both get what you’d like.
The lesson: Human elements of a legal project need just as much attention as the legal and financial elements. A sibling who believes they are being treated unfairly has the right to pull a stopper on the entire probate administration causing frustration, expense, and delay. Through coaching, PR and non-PR siblings have worked through some of these delicate situations with a lot of success – no matter the stage of administration. If you could use some advice on handling difficult relationships AND a probate administration, try a coaching session with Erica!
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