I touched briefly on estate auctions in a previous article and since I’ve pretty well ran out of things to write about, I figured I would circle back and go into more detail about estates. Well over half the auctions we do are estate auctions. The word estate means different things to different people, but in auction parlance an “estate” auction indicates that a person has passed away and the purpose of the auction is to liquidate assets so the estate can be settled.
There are different circumstances surrounding estates and, depending on how well the deceased had planned, each one can present certain challenges. If you don’t have a will or if your will hasn’t been updated in years, call your attorney tomorrow and get that lined out. When a person dies without a will, i.e. intestate, they have no say as to how their assets will be distributed after death. A will is an important tool to guide the legal processes that will follow a person’s passing. After what is usually a trying emotional event, the will is used to make sure the liquidation and distribution of a person’s assets goes as smoothly as possible for all parties involved and in accordance with the deceased wishes.
A will is by no means a guarantee that the process won’t have some bumps, however, especially with emotions still raw. An unfortunately common reality is that family members not seeing eye to eye about how the estate is being handled or feel slighted by the will or others involved. Sometimes the favoritism is perceived and other times it’s clearly spelled out. I’ve seen wills that didn’t mince words when it came to who was or was not getting anything and even went into detail as to why. It’s refreshing when family members are working together and making a sincere effort to compromise with each other. I try to make it a point to compliment them on it, because it’s often not the case. I’ve seen more instances than I could count of siblings and other family members not speaking to each other at all, speaking only through attorneys, or speaking to each other in ways that would make a Hell’s Angel blush. Some even going so far as to intentionally try and sabotage the estate settlement. The most extreme case that I personally know of comes from an experience my Dad had. It was early in my career and I was working at the auction but was unaware at the time of how tense it was. After selling the real estate, Dad stepped down and was approached by a man who said “Wow, I bet you were nervous!” Dad replied that he wasn’t any more nervous than any other Saturday morning and asked why he would think that. The man told him “Well, so-and-so was on one side of you and his brother was standing on the other side. They are both are packing pistols and just itching for the other to start something. You were standing right in between them!” Dad thanked him for not telling him beforehand, because otherwise he would have been a little more than just nervous.
That’s an extreme case, but it illustrates how toxic the situation can become among family members after a loved one’s death. Your will isn’t a be-all end-all to potential problems, but it at least provides a specific set of instructions on how you want your estate handled that all parties are legally obligated to abide by.
If the family members are on good terms and in agreement, we always encourage them to distribute any sentimental items among themselves prior to the auction. Ultimately, the home or land is going to make up the lion’s share of the estate assets and the furniture, collectibles, and other household items are not worth fighting over.
With the help of an attorney and other advisors, putting a plan in place for your estate will save a tremendous amount of time and potential trouble for your loved ones during what will already be a tough period.