Although estate laws vary from one state to another, all states permit you to obtain an accounting of your mother's estate. An accounting is part of the overall probate process. The probate of an estate is a court-supervised process to gather the assets of the person who died, identify and pay any debts, and make a distribution of the remaining assets. Distribution means giving estate property to those individuals identified in a will or, if no will exists, according to the laws of the state where the deceased person lived.
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Fiduciary Duty of Executor or Administrator
An executor manages the affairs of an estate if a will exists. An administrator is appointed to manage an estate if there is no will. Both an executor and administrator undertake the same functions and hold a fiduciary duty to both the estate and its beneficiaries or heirs, always acting in their best interests. In the United States legal system, fiduciary duty represents the highest level of care owed to another individual and can be violated in a number of ways, including neglect of the estate's affairs or misuse of its assets.
Initial Duties of Executor
One of the first tasks of an executor is to identify the assets and debts of the estate. The executor prepares an inventory and initial accounting, which he files with the court. He must also provide a copy of the inventory and initial accounting to any beneficiaries named in the will or, in the absence of a will, those entitled to a share of the estate as a matter of law. The executor's fiduciary duty requires an accurate inventory and initial accounting. When signing the documents, he states under oath that the information contained in them is true and correct to the best of his knowledge.
Once the estate's debts are paid, the executor prepares a final accounting. The final accounting is the document that lists all remaining assets to be distributed to beneficiaries according to the terms of the will, or state law if there is no will. Once again, the executor states under oath that the final accounting is accurate to his knowledge. In some states, if an estate takes more than a year to settle, the court orders an annual accounting.
If you believe that your mother's estate is not properly managed or fear misconduct by the executor, you possess the right to request an accounting at any time as a beneficiary. You make this request by filing a petition with the probate court, requesting the judge order an accounting. You need to explain briefly in the petition why you desire an accounting and the judge will likely schedule a hearing. However, if the other beneficiaries and executor agree to the accounting, an agreed-upon proposed order may be submitted to the judge for her approval, at which time and at her discretion, the judge may order an accounting without a hearing since all interested parties agree.