The role of the executor of a will is of vital importance to the estate and its beneficiaries. But what might cause an executor (or personal representative) to act in ways that damage one of these beneficiaries' interests? In fact, there are a few situations where harm can arise. Here's what you need to know about them and what to do as a beneficiary.
1. Selling Major Assets
Probate law gives responsibility for estate management to the executor. That includes the right — or the responsibility — to sell assets. In general, most states permit the sale of personal property without court or other approval, but the executor may or may not be permitted to sell real estate without approval. This affects heirs, in particular, who wanted to inherit the asset itself.
2. Paying Themselves and Others
Every expense paid by the estate reduces the amount left for beneficiaries. Every executor must pay legitimate bills, taxes, and debts of the estate. In addition, they may submit for reimbursement of expenses and even payment for their own services. An executor who pays illegitimate expenses, overcharges the estate, or uses their position to enrich themselves or their friends robs beneficiaries.
3. Delaying Distributions
Unfortunately, the process of probate can take some time. Although some estates can be resolved in months, probate may take years for a complex estate. Do you feel, though, that perhaps the executor is slow-walking the process? Have they missed deadlines? Do beneficiaries have no clear understanding of what is taking so long? They may need to ensure that the executor is not abusing their control of estate funds.
An executor is known as a fiduciary. A fiduciary is someone placed in charge of the assets of another and who must act in the best interests of the owner they represent. Executors are fiduciaries of both the deceased and their heirs. But some executors use their position to benefit themselves at the cost of other heirs. This is known as self-dealing, and it can happen in many ways.
5. Overriding Will Instructions
It's important to know how the executor may make decisions regarding will instructions and how they may not. The executor may not override clear will instructions or state inheritance law. However, where the will is unclear, the executor has limited power to interpret it the best they can. On the other hand, they should not make large-scale reinterpretations of the will, instead asking the probate court to do so.
Where Can You Learn More?
If you have reason to believe that an executor may be harming your or others' interests in an estate, you need your own legal representation. A probate lawyer will help you find out more and seek court intervention if necessary. Make an appointment today to learn how.
Reach out to a probate law firm for more information.
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