When you choose an executor -- the individual you want to handle your estate throughout the probate process -- it’s essential to exercise good character judgment. While you might trust a person implicitly, and even love her with all your heart if she’s a family member, the fact that she’s trustworthy won’t expeditiously and neatly settle your estate. The job usually demands that a person be exceptionally detail-oriented and organized as well. If these traits aren’t your chosen executor’s strong suits, you might be leaving your beneficiaries with a headache.
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Responsibilities and Deadlines
On the surface, your executor’s responsibilities may seem basic enough. She must submit your will for probate and request official appointment. She must “marshal” your assets, inventorying them and gathering those that can be secured in a safe place. She must let your creditors know that you’ve died and arrange for them to submit claims for the money you owed. After she pays them, as well as any taxes for which you or your estate are liable, she can distribute your bequests to your beneficiaries. But the devil is in the details -- and some of these tasks involve deadlines. The inventory requirement involves submitting papers to the court in a timely manner. Further, the executor must usually provide the court with an accounting of everything she did during probate and all the amounts she paid out on your behalf before she can close the estate.
Your Beneficiaries Can Intercede
The probate court will eventually notice if your executor fails to turn in an accounting or the official inventory of your assets by your state’s deadline. However, because the court is handling a lot of cases, in most states, the judge won’t painstakingly oversee every single action your executor does or fails to do. Your beneficiaries may realize before the court does that something is amiss, particularly if one of them is aware that your chosen executor is sometimes less than responsible about such things. Beneficiaries can keep tabs on the executor's activities because all her filings are a matter of public record, available from the court clerk. Your beneficiaries can bring the problem to the court’s attention by filing a petition asking the judge to order the executor to take certain actions and to set new, specific deadlines by which she must take such actions.
Demand for Accounting
If your beneficiaries fear that your executor’s irresponsibility extends beyond just missing filing deadlines, some states allow them to submit a petition to the court asking that she provide an immediate accounting. The judge can order her to submit one immediately, even if one isn’t statutorily required by law at that particular time. The report is similar to the one she would make at the end of the probate proceeding, detailing everything she did since her appointment. If she fails to provide the accounting, this is grounds for removal in most states. If she does submit it and it indicates that she did something egregiously wrong, she could be held in contempt of court or even be ordered to pay damages to the estate.
Removing the Executor
Most states, such as New York, will only remove the executor if she did something particularly bad or illegal; after all, your last wishes were that she serve in this capacity, and some courts may be slow to override your selection. Even in New York, however, irresponsibility is considered grounds for revoking an executor’s authority. Your beneficiaries can file a petition asking for her removal from office and the appointment of another executor. You can even cite terms for this in your will, noting how you want it accomplished and under what circumstances, as well as who you would like to step in as the successor executor.