Executors are entrusted to administer an estate and fulfill their fiduciary duties under the law. Unfortunately, executors can breach these duties and leave beneficiaries to pay the price. Often, executors will go to great lengths to cover up misconduct.
As the beneficiary of your late loved one’s estate, it can be a good idea to know how executors can breach their duties to prevent your inheritance from being compromised.
Here are a few examples of executor misconduct and what you can do if you suspect it is occurring.
Stealing and misappropriating estate funds
There are various ways that an executor can steal assets from an estate. This includes unauthorized transfers of titles to properties and gifting assets to unnamed beneficiaries. Executors may also use funds to pay their personal expenses or give themselves an unreasonable amount of compensation for their services.
Failing to pay creditors, taxes and other expenses
An executor is charged with settling a decedent’s financial affairs. This includes paying estate taxes and reconciling outstanding balances with creditors. Sometimes executors breach this duty unintentionally or do not do so in a timely manner. However, it is the executor’s responsibility to understand their fiduciary duties and ignorance is not an excuse for financial misconduct.
Executors may withhold a beneficiary’s share as a form of revenge. They may have a strained relationship with a beneficiary and refuse to comply with the terms of the will or trust. They are legally obligated to adhere to the decedent’s final wishes and to comply with court orders. Executors who withhold a beneficiary’s share can face serious civil penalties.
What happens if an executor breaches their duties?
You can take legal action to remove an executor in cases of misconduct. However, it is rare for courts to remove executors and there must be sufficient proof to back up your claim. If you believe that an executor has breached their fiduciary duties, you can document your findings to present to the judge.
There is a statute of limitations to file a civil lawsuit in California and remove executors. Consulting with a seasoned probate attorney can help you to determine if you are within the statute.