Can I challenge the actions of an executor or administrator of the estate of which I am a beneficiary?
Challenging an Executor or Administrator of Estate Attorney in Monmouth and Ocean County NJ
After the owner of the estate has died, the executor is responsible for probating the owner’s last will and testament.
The process of finalizing payments and distributing a decedent’s assets after their death can be a long and drawn-out process. It involves many moving pieces that increase the potential of an error on the part of the estate’s executor. Is it possible to challenge the actions of an executor if you believe there to be an accidental or purposeful mistake that affects the decedent’s desired distribution of assets? Read on to learn more.
The executive’s role in the probation process
The executor, or administrator, of an estate in New Jersey, has a very specific role. After the owner of the estate has died, the executor is responsible for probating the owner’s last will and testament. Probation of a will is a court-supervised process in which the will is authenticated, the appointed executor posts a bond to serve as insurance in case they commit a grievous error, assets are inventoried, all debts owed are paid, taxes are filed and paid, and, finally, the estate’s assets are distributed.
What happens if an estate executive does not perform the duties for which they are legally responsible?
An executive is legally responsible for overseeing the probation process from start to finish. They have a fiduciary duty to all beneficiaries and involved third parties of the estate, meaning that it is their legal responsibility to ensure that the written desires of the decedent and the best interest of those involved are met. Any backroom dealing that advances their own best interests at the expense of the wishes of the decedent during the long course of the probation process is illegal. If an executor abuses their role or withholds information that affects proper distribution and settling of the estate, they are in breach of their fiduciary duty and can be legally removed from their position, and even face a lawsuit brought forth by the heirs.
According to New Jersey Revised Statutes Title 3B, an executor can be removed from their legal duties for the following reasons:
- Neglect or refusal to file an inventory, render an account, or properly secure estate assets
- Neglect or refusal to obey a court order or judgment within the specified time frame
- Embezzlement or illegal misapplication of estate finances, or any other action that betrays the trust underlying their fiduciary duty
- Inability to conduct the required business of estate probation
- Neglect or refusal to collaborate with another legally appointed fiduciary in resolving estate matters
If an executor has been accused of one of the above actions, a judge will most certainly consider whether the continuation of that executor will mean a detriment to the proper settlement and interests of an estate. If the answer is yes, the judge will have grounds for removal. If a beneficiary or another involved party take personal issue with the manner in which the executor is handling the probation process, but the executor has not committed any illegal or detrimental act, the judge will not find grounds for removal. There must be clear evidence that one of the above breaches of fiduciary duty has occurred.
New Jersey is a probate friendly state
This means that, for most actions, the executor need not receive permission from the court to handle most settlement aspects of an estate. The court will only get involved if there is an alleged breach of the fiduciary duties laid out in the last will and testament and New Jersey law.
One of the most common examples of a breach of fiduciary duty is the improper accounting of the assets and finances settled. In order for beneficiaries to receive their inheritances, the court must receive proper accounting of all settlements. The required frequency of disclosures regarding the settlement, as well as the detail with which accounting must be disclosed, depending on the complexity and value of the estate assets, the estate’s tax liability, as well as the number of beneficiaries.
If the court finds that the executor or other appointed administrator has not satisfactorily completed accounting, beneficiaries can be kept in limbo. As such, beneficiaries can file a petition that requests a court order for accounting. If the executive is not able to provide proper accounting under the court order, they will be removed as executive.
Consult a Wall Township Estate Planning and Administration Lawyer Today
At Bronzino Law Firm, our estate attorneys are experienced in guiding the settlement needs of our clients across Point Pleasant, Brick, Wall, Sea Girt, Spring Lake and the greater Ocean and Monmouth County Areas.