Named as executor, but with wrong name and there is little to administer
November 3, 2016 12:26 AM   Subscribe

My elderly friend died last month. I am supposed to "handle" her affairs, but she had no property, not even a car and there is not that much to handle. Just the same, I would like to do what I am supposed to do correctly.

My friend (age 86) died in October with no assets, no property and very little funds.
She had lived in HUD housing and got state assistance. Near the end she had moved into Foster Care and they took most of her Social Security.

She wrote a handwritten will of sorts in 2007 and named me as the person to take care of all her issues including her cats, etc. She has a couple of cousins, but they live elsewhere. We live in Oregon. She entitled her handwritten will “My death wishes”. She used my "nom de plume" first name instead of my actual legal first name on the document. She had it notarized. (I presume this can be problematic).

When she died she had utility bills, a cable bill and credit card debt. Her debt is probably around 4 thousand dollars.
She had paid for her own cremation in advance and left a thousand dollars in a metal box. (which I have).

Do I have to pay anything toward her debt (because she had no assets whatsoever and all her debt was unsecured). ?

I have the death certificate that lists me (with the correct name) as the informant. I was sitting down tonight to write all her creditors to advise them of her death when I realized that the document that gives me authority to do anything has the wrong first name on it. Should I still go ahead and send these letters out together with copies of the death certificate and her holographic will? Should I bother to try to explain the situation, or just send copies of the documents I have and try to somehow turn off her mail? (I might have trouble turning off her mail, because of the wrong name issue).

I know you aren't my lawyer, etcetera. Any advice gratefully accepted. I just want to do what I can correctly and I have very little experience in this type of thing. I've tried to google for answers, but I haven't found clear answers.
posted by naplesyellow to Law & Government (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You are going to need to file what's called a small estate affidavit with the county court. They will want you to pay her debts, to the extent that you know what they are and have her money. There is an order in which debts get paid (i.e. taxes first, then other governmental debts, then hospital, etc). It costs money to file the affidavit but you should use her money to do it.

Wills are not actually very binding and the fact that she wrote down the wrong name for you may not be very important. When it comes to creditors possibly getting paid back they will be happy to take your money. I think the post office and utilities will take the death certificate as good enough to cancel service.

I am not an expert but have been an executor more than once. Thank you for doing this for your friend. I'm sorry for your loss.
posted by hungrytiger at 12:53 AM on November 3, 2016 [8 favorites]

Oh yeah, if she was in foster care and Medicaid was involved, they are going to want first dibs on her money. It's called estate recovery -- whatever amount of money the state spent on long-term care through Medicaid, they attempt to take from the estate after death.
posted by hungrytiger at 12:55 AM on November 3, 2016 [3 favorites]

Sorry to keep posting but I just thought this through: I really would not write to her creditors until the small estate affidavit has been filed and is returned to you by the State, because they have a legal order in which they want creditors to be repaid, but if you are telling the electric company they might get repaid I think they might start hounding you, when in fact you won't have money for them because it'll have gone to Medicare (or whatever).
posted by hungrytiger at 12:57 AM on November 3, 2016 [6 favorites]

Maybe I'm a bad person, but I don't see any reason anyone who could be described as a "creditor" needs to be informed of any thousand bucks cash in any metal boxes, even Medicare etc. Nobody's sending the money-sniffing dogs into an indigent old woman's apartment to fight with other creditors over a fraction of the owed debt. Let them strongarm the living if they must have their pennies.
posted by Krawczak at 1:02 AM on November 3, 2016 [19 favorites]

I had to deal with this with my parents.

Creditors may try to guilt trip you into paying her debts, because they know that estates take a long time to settle, and that they may not get paid at all. Hell, they may ask you to pay outright. As the Executrix, you're not liable to take on any of her debts yourself, and the magic phrase you want is "You will have to bill the estate for the debt."
posted by spinifex23 at 1:04 AM on November 3, 2016 [49 favorites]

Oh yeah - in my father's case, there were more debts than assets. So, after I got all of his assets, I split them up proportionally, and sent off each portion to each creditor. I also enclosed a note saying that this was their portion of the estate, and the estate was now closed. I used cashier's checks issued from my Credit Union, so that they wouldn't have my personal contact info.

No one came after me for the remainder.

This was in Wisconsin.
posted by spinifex23 at 1:08 AM on November 3, 2016 [6 favorites]

I am a lawyer, but not an Oregon lawyer. The other usual admonitions apply.

There is nothing wrong with writing the creditors to simply advise that the debtor is deceased. They will take it from there. Most will likely just close the account. Others may ask for information to see if an estate will be opened.

Speak with a local lawyer. Many will give you a reasonable amount of their time to guide you in the right direction without fee. If the first one you contact will not, look for another.
posted by megatherium at 4:49 AM on November 3, 2016 [5 favorites]

When we did this for my mother-in-law we found that zero creditors wanted money. It was surprisingly easy to close all her accounts, end her lease, return her cable box, etc. and nobody even asked for a copy of the death certificate or asked for money. I always wondered if their computers "knew" that she was a low-income individual and there just wasn't going to be any money coming. This was in California.
posted by BlahLaLa at 6:22 AM on November 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

What Krawczak said.

Tell the PO, elect,gas etc. No one official knows about the $1,000, so keep it and use it to care for her cats or whatever you want.

Sorry for you loss
posted by james33 at 7:19 AM on November 3, 2016 [6 favorites]

IANAL, IANYL, TINLA, I'm in New York State and not Oregon, but I've done estate work for 20+ years.

(I'm assuming that your friend's will only named you with respect to anything - if there were specific bequests to people, those will need to be honored.)

hungrytiger is correct in all respects - the small estate affidavit, the priority order of creditor claims, etc. I'd just add:

1. You'll need to provide your friend's cousins with a copy of the will and the affidavit, because they are the heirs to your friend's estate - they would inherit her estate if there was no will. Hopefully you have recent addresses for them.*

2. The cash should be used for things like the filing fee for the affidavit, obtaining a certified copy of the death certificate, taking care of the cats, etc. Keep track of what you've used.

*Ask me about the time we had a client die who was a widow and did not have children, but *did* have ten brothers and sisters, most of whom were dead and were survived by 10+ children of their own and we had addresses for maybe three of them tops
posted by Lucinda at 9:33 AM on November 3, 2016 [3 favorites]

« Older Making a shelf to hang off a picture rail   |   Lacquering error correction? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.