My mother passed away in 2021. She left her estate in equal shares to my sister, my brother and me. My siblings were named coexecutors of her will. It was relatively easy to sort out her house and belongings and to distribute the money. My sister insisted on handling everything: “I’ve got it,” she would say when we offered to help. Most of the funds were distributed soon after my mother’s death. But there remains a balance of $150,000. When my brother asked my sister to distribute it, she sent a long email saying she deserves to be paid for her work. My brother and I are surprised, sad and angry: The will doesn’t say anything about paying executors. My sister was an ample beneficiary, and her work was finished 18 months ago. If she wanted to be paid for what I view as an act of love, she should have brought it up at the beginning. Thoughts?
Let’s skip the knee-jerk reaction (“What a greedy sister!”) and consider this issue more fully. When wills are silent or don’t explicitly prohibit the payment of executors, most states have laws that set guidelines for their reasonable payment — usually an hourly rate or a small percentage of the estate. In my experience as a lawyer, though, executors of family estates who are also beneficiaries usually waive payment.
Still — and I say this respectfully — it is facile for you to call your sister’s work easy or to suggest that it be done free of charge (as an “act of love”) when, despite your offers, you did none of it. Having served as the executor of my mother’s estate, I can report that it was time-consuming and, also, that I wouldn’t have taken a penny for it. So, maybe you and your sister both have a point?
Ask a local lawyer what compensation the coexecutors of your mother’s estate are entitled to under state law. Unless your mother was extremely wealthy, it will not be close to $150,000. But if the estate is still pending and state law allows for payment to executors, your sister is entitled to ask the probate court for reasonable payment for her work. Inevitably, this will lead to hard feelings among you, and I am sorry for that. So, for those making wills, remember to stipulate whether executors are entitled to payment for their services.