What Can I Do if the Executor of the Estate Doesn't Pay Me as an Heir?

By Matthew Derrringer

You are due an inheritance, but you have a problem with the way the executor is doing his job. Depending on the estate in question and the laws of the state, the probate process can be quite complex, but there is a structure to the process. Distribution of the assets of the estate to beneficiaries named in the will or to heirs under intestate succession usually come at the end.

You are due an inheritance, but you have a problem with the way the executor is doing his job. Depending on the estate in question and the laws of the state, the probate process can be quite complex, but there is a structure to the process. Distribution of the assets of the estate to beneficiaries named in the will or to heirs under intestate succession usually come at the end.

The Executor

Probate is the process whereby a person’s estate is administered and distributed after their death. Probate laws vary depending on the state. If a person executed a valid will before they died, an executor was most likely named in the document. The executor is entrusted with carrying out each step of the probate process to ensure the deceased person’s wishes are properly carried out. If a person dies without a will, or intestate, the court will name an administrator to oversee the probate process.

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The Executor’s Duties

The executor is expected to marshal the assets of an estate as part of a complete inventory. Depending on the size and overall value of the estate, the executor will pay any applicable taxes and remaining debt to the decedent’s creditors. The funds for these payments are taken out of the estate. If the debt is greater than the value of the estate, individual items can be sold to cover those obligations, which could leave a beneficiary without an inheritance at all. The executor owes a duty to the beneficiaries of the estate to preserve the value of the estate to the greatest extent possible.

Distribution of the Estate

The length of time it takes to successfully complete the probate process can depend on the complexity of the estate, as well as state law. In most cases, beneficiaries should expect to receive their portion of the estate in a timely manner, but ownership will not transfer until the end of the probate process. Remaining assets are distributed in accordance with the terms of the will or the state’s intestate laws.

Mismanagement

Although you would expect the executor -- especially if chosen specifically by the deceased -- to carry out his or her duties with the utmost care and respect, mismanagement of an estate is not unprecedented. If an heir or beneficiary believes the executor is not fulfilling her legal obligations, a petition can be filed with the court for either a complete accounting of the estate’s assets or removal of the executor in a serious case of mismanagement. An executor who is violating his duties can be held in contempt of court, which can carry fines and even a jail sentence. The heirs or beneficiaries can also pursue a civil lawsuit to recover lost or stolen assets, and legal fees.

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Can the Beneficiary Be the Executor of a Will?

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What Happens if an Executor Refuses to Probate?

An executor has a duty to act in the best interest of the estate, and refusing to probate an estate may be cause for the executor to be removed. State probate laws differ, but the Uniform Probate Code, approved by the National Conference of Commissioners On Uniform State Laws, provides a general framework for handling an executor refusing to move the probate process along. In addition to removal, an executor may be held personally liable for breaching his fiduciary duty to the probate estate.

Does the Executor Have Authority Over the Will?

An executor is the person named in a will to administer the estate of the person who died. The executor may be a bank or trust company instead of an individual. While state law varies as to the exact duties of an executor, in general all executors must gather the estate's assets, pay creditors, then distribute remaining estate assets in accordance with the will's directives, without any discretion to deviate from the will except in limited circumstances.

Can the Executor of a Will Put Property in Probate?

When a person dies, his assets must be distributed to the appropriate beneficiaries or heirs. To accomplish this, most of these assets go through the probate process first. This process, often administered by the courts, varies according to each state’s laws. Typically, title to a deceased person’s property cannot be changed without first going through the probate steps.

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