What to do if an Executor is not communicating with the Beneficiaries of an Estate
An executor is a personal representative of an estate who was selected by the decedent in his or her Last Will and Testament to ensure that the wishes of the decedent are accomplished. To simplify this a bit more, here is an example:
Before Alex passed away, he created a last will and testament. The will appointed an executor and had several directives in it. An excerpt from the will states as follows: “Upon my death, donate my paintings to Charity XYZ, give my antique vas collection to my sister, and throw out all of my furniture. I appoint my friend Eric to be the executor of my last will and testament”. In this case, Eric is nominated as the executor. If Eric accepts his nomination and is officially appointed by the Surrogate’s Court, he will be in charge of executing all of the aforementioned directives.
Most estates are settled with ease and in a timely manner. However, there are instances where the beneficiaries are dealt with an unresponsive executor. If the executor refuses to communicate with the beneficiaries regarding the status of the estate or fails to make a distribution, try the following methods:
Send the Executor a Letter
Executors are people, and no person enjoys going to court unless they absolutely have to. In most cases, an executor is unaware that by way of their action or inaction they are violating the law. This often occurs when a personal representative is not represented by an attorney, and thus has no one to guide them through the ethics of their position. An email or letter threatening legal action can sometimes persuade the wrongdoer to adjust their behavior. If that proves unavailing, consider hiring an estate lawyer as noted below.
Hire a probate lawyer
As cliché as it may sound, if you want to get things done, get yourself a probate lawyer. Representing yourself in Surrogate’s Court is just fine if you got nothing to lose. However, in most probate matters – where substantial monetary rights are on the line – you should be using legal representation. Doing so can eliminate prejudicial mistakes and forces the wrongful party to answer for their actions. It also makes the Court takes your matter seriously when you are represented by an attorney. Surrogate Court judges routinely dismiss cases of pro-se parties for missing deadlines and failing to follow proper procedure. Scrimping on legal fees can easily be justified for small claim matters, where $500 is on the line. But hiring a law firm when tens of thousands of dollars are at risk is spending smart. Do not depend on answers you find on Google to resolve your issue. As diligent as it is that you spent four hours googling questions and answers, an estate lawyer spends at a minimum 40 hours per week assisting clients with matters such as yours.
Where the executor is not communicating with the beneficiaries, an estate lawyer starts by reviewing the last will and testament of the decedent. Upon examination, they will let you know exactly what your rights are depending on your status (a wife of a decedent may have different rights compared to a neighbor). Where the decedent died without a will, a lawyer should start by examining the Surrogate’s Court file on the estate to ascertain the rightful heirs and other relevant information. If you are not a beneficiary or an heir of an estate, do not expect the executor or administrator to provide you with any information. However, if you have been disinherited in a will because you believe there’s been foul play such as undue influence or fraud, contesting a will may be an option. The same principle applies if have you been excluded from an administration proceeding (no will) although you are an heir of the deceased.
The four chief complaints against the executor or administrator involve the following:
- Refuses to disburse money belonging to the beneficiaries/heirs or is taking too long to do so;
- Refuses to provide an accounting of all the expenses and disbursements of the estate;
- Refuses to sell the real property of the estate;
- Refuses to file the will or move the matter along.
Our law firm can assist you if you are the beneficiary or an heir of an estate in New York. Call us immediately at (646) 233-0826 for a consultation or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Petition the Court to Appoint a New Executor
The law is well settled in that a personal representative (executor or administrator), as a fiduciary, must act in the best interests of the beneficiaries. The fiduciary is forbidden from prioritizing their own personal interests. A good example is as follows:
Todd is the beneficiary of his father’s estate. His father selected Bill, his lawyer, to be the executor. The will of Todd’s father states that his home must be sold and all proceeds must go to Todd. Bill decides to hire a real estate broker to sell the property and the broker will charge 5%. Todd knows another broker who will charge 2% on the transaction. It becomes apparent that the broker Bill has hired is splitting commissions with him when a referral is given.
It is clear that Bill the executor is benefiting at the expense of Todd by hiring a broker who will split a higher commission with him. Bill’s self-dealing and conflict of interest is sufficient grounds for petitioning the Court to have him removed and a new executor appointed.
In the case where you are receiving no communication from the executor, your only remedy may be to seek court intervention. Have your lawyer first communicate with the executor and their attorney. It is possible that the executor is busy trying to sell the property of the estate or is dealing with delays in transferring the assets that belong to the decedent. If you detect there is a degree of unreasonable delay, you can certainly petition the Surrogate Court.
At Mishiyeva Law, we help beneficiaries and heirs resolve issues dealing with unethical or uncommunicative fiduciaries. Call us at 646-233-0826 to see if we can hep you.
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