Legal Questions Regarding the Executor's Handling of the Will

by Anna Assad

An executor is the person who oversees the estate of a person who died with a will. A myriad of duties are handled by the executor, including the transfer of inheritances to the heirs, the disposal of estate assets and the payment of final bills. The executor petitions the court for probate, the legal proceeding that grants him the legal authority to carry out his duties.

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Is the Executor Bound to Will Provisions?

The executor must follow the directions in the will. If a specific item, like a diamond ring, is left to a particular heir, the executor has to identify, locate and give the ring to the named recipient. Should the heir decide to give the ring to another relative, the executor is not liable as long as he has a signed release from the heir stating she received the ring. A will that does not have specific bequests leaves the executor with some decisions to make. A deceased person who left her total estate in equal shares to two heirs, for example, may have real estate or other valuable personal items. The executor can sell the real estate or items and divide the proceeds between the heirs, or make arrangements with an heir who is interested in buying the property or belonging.

Who Supervises the Executor?

The executor may have an attorney helping her with the probate process and the transfer of assets, but the probate court is the actual authority. The exact procedures for probate vary by area, but probate courts generally require the executor prepare and submit an inventory list that includes the deceased person's assets and personal belongings, and submit signed releases from each heir for estate distributions and proof of the transfer or sale of assets, as well as the purchase price. An executor who fails to meet the court reporting requirements may be removed as executor if the judge views her actions as negligent or criminal in nature.

What Must the Executor Disclose to Heirs?

The heirs have the right to view the will and the financial documentation for the estate, including inventory and current creditor claims. Some states require automatic disclosure to heirs of each action the executor takes, while other states allow heirs to file a form in court that asks for notification of the executor's activities and any changes in the estate's status, like the filing of a new creditor claim.

Can the Heirs Remove an Executor?

The heirs can petition the probate court to challenge the executor's appointment initially and in the future. Valid reasons to challenge an appointment or ask for the revocation of the executor's powers generally relate to the executor's actions and qualifications. An executor who is seriously ill or medically incompetent may not be qualified to handle the responsibility. The heirs have the right to ask for the removal of an executor who is committing fraud or behaving in a negligent manner, harming the estate as a result. An executor who mishandles the estate may be personally liable for damages to the heirs.