Expectations of Estate Administration Vs Reality

When I talk to people about their expectations around estate administration I take the time to explain that managing a deceased estate is an honour, but it also has the potential to be hard (not always but sometimes).

Like having a baby or getting married or deciding to retire and spend all day with your beloved - nobody wants to tell you it might be difficult beforehand or you wouldn’t sign up for it.

Managing a deceased estate is a responsibility that many people find themselves unprepared for. Despite any preconceived notions, the reality often proves to be much more complex and challenging than anticipated and seeking professional help is crucial.

I like to think of it as looking after the person who is looking after the dead person’s people.

Expectation: A Smooth, Quick Process

Many people assume that managing a deceased estate is a straightforward process that can be wrapped up quickly. The expectation is that, with a will in hand, the executor simply distributes assets according to the deceased’s wishes, pays off any debts, and concludes the matter in a few weeks or months.

Reality: A Lengthy, Complex Journey

In reality, the process can be long and arduous. The probate process, which involves validating the will through the court system, can take months, especially if the will is contested. Gathering and valuing all assets, paying debts, filing taxes, and handling any disputes among beneficiaries are all time-consuming tasks that require careful attention and patience.

Expectation: Clear Instructions in the Will

A common expectation is that all wills provide clear, detailed instructions that cover every aspect of the estate, leaving little room for interpretation or dispute. Many believe that the deceased’s wishes will be explicitly spelled out, making the executor’s job straightforward.

Reality: Ambiguities and Gaps

Not all wills are created equal and they can contain ambiguities and gaps that lead to potential confusion and disputes. It’s uncommon to inherit a will where assets have been sold or can’t be accounted for, and sometimes the language used in the will can be vague, outdated or no longer relevant. Executors are frequently asked to make judgment calls or work with us to interpret the deceased’s intentions.

Expectation: Minimal Family Conflict

One of the biggest gaps between expectation and reality is that people often expect that family members will come together in a time of grief and support the executor’s efforts to manage the estate smoothly by being co-operative and understanding.

Reality: Disputes and Tensions Run High

The reality is that emotions are usually at an all-time high after a loved one’s death, and longstanding family dynamics can resurface, leading to conflicts. Disagreements over the distribution of assets, perceived fairness, and interpretations of the will can cause significant tensions, which executors must navigate.

Expectation: Limited Administrative Duties

Many executors take on the role believing there will be minimal administrative work and any work they need to do will be straightforward and procedural.

Reality: Extensive Administrative Responsibilities

In practice, the administrative responsibilities can be overwhelming. Executors must keep detailed records of all transactions, communicate regularly with beneficiaries, manage and maintain any real estate or valuable assets, and ensure all legal and financial obligations are met. Engaging us to help manage the estate can help reduce this workload but there is still a significant amount of paperwork, coordination, and ongoing management required until the estate is fully settled.

Expectation: Personal Grief Will Not Interfere

Many people assume that their personal grief will not significantly impact their ability to manage the estate. They expect to be able to separate their emotions from the tasks at hand and perform their duties efficiently.

Reality: Emotional Toll

In reality, executors are often close family members or friends of the deceased, and they must balance their grieving process with the responsibilities of their role. When writing your will it’s important to consider if the person you choose for the role of executor will have the capacity to balance the administrative tasks as well as their own emotions (choosing an executor isn’t a popularity contest or a matter of appointing who you’ve been lead to believe “should” take on the role).


At Your Estate Lawyer we focus only on estate planning and estate management which means we can provide invaluable support and guidance, helping executors navigate the legal, financial, and emotional complexities of managing a deceased estate.

We’re passionate about ensuring that estate management is handled efficiently and respectfully, but will also work har to keep you as the executor safe and supported.

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