An executor is not guilty of misconduct if he does not get along with the will’s beneficiaries or puts the estate’s liquid assets into a savings account rather than an investment account. Generally, he must violate some law, misappropriate or fail to protect the estate’s assets, or use the assets for his own financial gain. But if he does any of these things, the beneficiaries have legal recourse.
Action by Court
If an executor fails to take any responsibility at all for probating the will or opening the estate, the courts in most states will get involved within a relatively short period of time and the beneficiaries do not have to do anything. For instance, in North Carolina, the clerk of the Superior Court will file a petition to demand the removal of the executor within 30 days if the executor does nothing.
Probate Petition by Beneficiaries
When the beneficiaries can prove misconduct on the part of the executor while the will is still in probate, they can petition the court to have the executor removed from office. But only the beneficiaries or one of the deceased’s creditors can do this. The person initiating the action must have some financial stake in the estate. If such a person files an application in probate court to remove an executor, the court holds a hearing and the executor gets an opportunity to tell his side of the story.
Law Suit by Beneficiaries
Another option for beneficiaries is to file a civil suit for damages against an executor who fails to perform her fiduciary duties. For this reason, most states require an executor to post bond before assuming office unless the terms of the will expressly waive this requirement. Bond is an insurance policy that will pay damages assessed against the executor in a law suit by the beneficiaries. The grounds for this option are more difficult to meet than a petition filed with the probate court. The beneficiaries must prove that they suffered financial harm because of the executor’s negligence.
Read More: On What Grounds Can the Executor of a Recorded Will Refuse to Pay Beneficiaries of the Estate?
Sometimes grievances against an executor can be settled without going to court. In some cases, the beneficiaries and the executor can resolve their differences if the executor agrees to compensate them for any financial damage they suffered due to fiduciary mismanagement. Sometimes the court will simply require that the executor repay the beneficiaries any lost income without also assessing punitive damages, or a monetary punishment for wrongdoing. In these cases, the executor would only have to make good for monies lost due to his failure to execute the will properly.
Beverly Bird is a practicing paralegal who has been writing professionally on legal subjects for over 30 years. She specializes in family law and estate law and has mediated family custody issues.