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Executor for my Aunt

December 27, 2015

Shortly after her husband died, my aunt asked me to be the executor for her estate.  I readily agreed, even though I’d never done that, and promptly forgot about the request.  She was a lifelong smoker.  I knew that she had circulation problems, likely caused by smoking.  No doubt her lungs were also affected.

I used to visit her regularly.  She would offer me tea and home-made cake.  We would sit in her favourite room, the sun room she had added to the house.  Later on, she was still delighted to see me, but she didn’t offer me anything to eat or drink.  One day, I got word that she had died in bed.  A friend of hers had found her.  She was feeling sick at the time.  In fact, she was so weak from the illness that she didn’t call for help, even though she only had to press one button on the telephone to call 911.  We didn’t know exactly when she died.  Even the autopsy didn’t give us that information.

My stint as executor had come.  At first, I searched around her house without touching anything.  In her office, on her desk, I noticed an envelope that obviously contained payment for a utility bill.  It was stamped and ready to go.  I dropped it in a post office box on the way home.  Nobody would know that she was dead.  In her desk drawer, I found a folder with my name upon it.  That was shock, like seeing a ghost.  It contained all the information I needed for my new role.  My aunt had been a legal secretary before she got married.  She knew everything that was needed by an executor.  One envelope of the folder even contained five $20 bills, in case I had expenses.  I later deposited them to the estate account.  I also found the name of her lawyer and a hand-written codicil to her will.  The lawyer was surprised at seeing that, but told me that the codicil was properly done, and that it actually simplified the will.

The lawyer was very helpful.  Any time I was not sure what I should be doing, he was there to guide me.  My tasks were to identify all her assets, convert them into cash, and finally to disburse all of the cash to the beneficiaries.  I was to sell the house, also something that I’d never done before.  The lawyer told me that all I had to do was to choose a realtor, and they would look after the sale.  The realtor turned out to be very helpful too.

As I’d never been an executor before, I immediately started keeping a diary of everything that happened concerning my aunt’s estate.  The lawyer suggested that I should convert her personal bank account into an estate account, so that I could deposit money into it, and write cheques on it.  Her bank helped me to do that.  I had the key to her safety deposit box.  One of the bank employees and I reviewed the contents of that.  We found a life insurance policy, taken out in the 1920’s.  The bank employee tossed that on the pile, declaring it to be worthless.  It turned out not to be.  The original insurance company had gone out of business, but another company was paying claims.  Once I submitted the correct documents, they issued me a cheque.  It was a bit spooky depositing that cheque; somebody had to die for me to collect on the policy.

The real estate agent helped me decide what I needed to do to bring the house up to saleable condition.  The house had hardwood floors throughout, with carpets in most rooms.  When I discovered that the large carpet in the living room had an underlay that was stuck to the floor, I decided to leave all the carpets in place.  The furniture all had to be sold, but I wanted to keep some of it in place as long as possible, to make the house look more natural.

The basement floor had many cracks.  They didn’t affect the structure, but the  realtor recommended that we have an engineer inspect the basement anyway.  That would reassure any potential buyer.  Several rooms needed to be painted.  One room had stains on the ceiling.  We decided to add plasterboard panels to the ceiling, before getting that room painted.  Once all the work was done, we were able to put the house on the market.  Still, I shoveled the sidewalk all winter, and showed it to several people who were interested in it.  It finally sold in the spring.

The entire contents of the house went to my mother.  Of course, she didn’t have room for most of the furniture.  I took some of it.  Other relatives took some.  My mother took all of the clothing and many of the small items as well.  The rest I sold.  It’s amazing what people accumulate when they live in a house for many years.  I found a drawer in the kitchen that was full of coins.  One person sent a moving van to pick up several items of furniture.  The sidewalk was clear of snow, but I suppose the movers didn’t want to carry the furniture all the way to the street.  Instead, they smashed through mounds of ice and snow with their truck until they could back up, one set of wheels on the sidewalk, across the boulevard and front lawn, right up to the front steps.  Then, they only needed to extend a ramp right up to the front door, and carry the furniture across it.

It took a long time, longer that I had expected, to get everything sold and the money in the estate account, but finally it was done.  We made a preliminary payment to the 13 beneficiaries, paid the taxes, and then made a final payment.  That was the end of my involvement as executor.  I was glad to do it, but also glad to see the end of it.


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