If you are a fan of detective fiction or Agatha Christie mysteries, you already know that decedent’s estates are inherently dramatic subjects.

The emotions and grief of loss can be rapidly replaced by self-interest and aggressive behavior.  It will be necessary for the personal representative to apply the brakes from time to time.  Certain beneficiaries may have already developed a sense of entitlement to make decisions about the distribution of personal property, or may try to substitute their own judgment in deciding what is “fair.”

Needless to say, when it comes to the subject of money, greed and partisanship can derail a previously peaceful family situation.  Here are suggested steps to impose order on the situation:

1. Identify the personal representative. This individual will be given special legal and fiduciary powers and duties to transfer property as required by law, then according to the decedent’s intent.  If there is a will, the PR will be either the person named in the will of the decedent, or the surviving spouse, or the person nominated by the surviving spouse, or other persons listed in priority under Indiana law [IC 29-1-10-1].

2. Identify the “interested persons” whom the PR is obliged to notify and inform at various stages of administration. Under Indiana law [IC 29-1-1-3(13), “Interested persons” means heirs, devisees, spouses, creditors, or any others having a property right in or claim against the estate of a decedent being administered. This meaning may vary at different stages and different parts of a proceeding and must be determined according to the particular purpose and matter involved.”

3. Set a meeting to gather together as many of the interested parties as possible, to educate them all in one session so their expectations are in line with the legal requirements. Do not invite creditors to the meeting.

4. Establish control. Inform the interested persons that no property will be distributed, and no property is to be taken from the estate, until an inventory has been done and the decedent’s taxes and creditors have been paid.  The personal representative is the only person empowered to decide when and how property will be transferred from the decedent’s estate, and the personal representative must act in accordance with the law before considering the desires of individual beneficiaries.

Through quick communication and a “reality check” with the beneficiaries, the process of administering the decedent’s estate will be much more manageable for the personal representative.