If your client is the executor of a family estate, you can warn him or her it will take an average of 800 hours—that’s 20 full workweeks—to settle most estates.

That is, if it doesn’t get bogged down in a battle over an amethyst ring or Green Bay Packers tickets, said EstateExec, a company based in the San Francisco area that creates software for estate executors.

It takes an average of 16 months to settle an estate, no matter the size, according to an EstateExec survey of 1,200 people involved in estate settlements. For 80 percent of estates, it takes 800 hours of work by the executor to settle, the survey said, and nearly half, 44 percent, of those surveyed were part of, or were at least aware of, family conflicts that erupted in the settlement process.

When someone dies in the United States, the estate must be settled by an executor, usually a close family member appointed by the will or the court. The typical estate at the time of settlement is worth between $50,000 and $250,000, with only 11 percent under $10,000 and about an equal amount over $1 million, EstateExec said.

Estate executors reported that the settlement process took work, but they did not find it either easy or particularly onerous. The average compensation for the executor was $18,000.

But there is no real average or normal estate settlement. Every family situation is unique and many end up in conflict. EstateExec asked the survey participants about the particulars of their estate settlement experiences and found out many did not go smoothly.

The causes of conflict reported by the survey participants involved a variety of problems, including accusations of stealing. “One common theme was mistrust, often engendered by lack of communication. Nineteen percent said they were aware of perceived executor misconduct,” EstateExec said.

For one respondent, “there was a huge fight over season tickets for the Green Bay Packers. Family members took each other to court over it and nine of them still do not talk to each other.”

Another had this to say: “When I was 13 my grandma died. As her first-born and closest granddaughter, I was supposed to get her amethyst ring and a pillow she had. My aunt said she never saw the stuff. A few years later, my mom noticed my cousin wearing the ring. So, auntie just took the ring and then lied about it.

Emotions took over in another case: “After my mother died, the five siblings were to split everything. One brother sued the rest of us, including my sister the executrix, and eventually burned up the money in the estate on lawyers we needed to defend ourselves. My brother had decided that if he couldn't run the show, everyone would get nothing, including him.” The survey respondent described it as a “sad, sad story.”

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