When can an heir sue an executor?

An executor, also known as a trustee or personal administrator, ensures that the decedent’s property and possessions are distributed to the beneficiaries according to the last will. The law requires the trustee to execute these duties with the utmost honesty and diligence. This legal requirement is referred to as “fiduciary duty.”

Being an executor can be a great honor and sign of trust, but this responsibility comes with serious risk in the case of flawed execution.

Errors and mistakes made during the probate process can be a significant liability to the trustee. A beneficiary or heir has a right to file a lawsuit against an executor for any mistake leading to financial loss. Below are the grounds for filing a lawsuit against an estate administrator.

Failure to provide accurate accounting

The executor must provide an accounting of all the property and income that the estate collected. The summary should also list the administration expenses and all the debts cleared out of estate funds. The beneficiaries have a right to review the accounting report and to inquire about any matters or transactions that might be questionable.

The beneficiaries usually sign a release form if they are satisfied with the accounting. If the beneficiaries do not agree with the accounting, the estate administrator presents the accounting to the Surrogate’s Court for approval. If the trustee fails to present the court with the report, or if they do not provide an account at all, the beneficiaries have a right to file a claim against the executor under the Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act (SCPA) Section 2205.

Failure to clear debts and pay taxes

An executor must be familiar with estate tax laws, both federal and state. Failure to meet deadlines for clearing debts, making tax errors, or failure to pay taxes may lead to lawsuits from creditors, or the estate may be imposed with heavy penalties for late payments.

According to the law, the executor is personally liable for unpaid estate taxes. Therefore, an executor will often seek consultancy from estate attorneys or certified accountants regarding applicable estate taxes. 

Suspected theft from the estate

An executor has complete access to estate funds. These funds should remain in the estate’s account, and the trustee is not permitted to transfer the funds to their own accounts for personal use. The money is only available to the beneficiaries or any other party listed in the last will. The heirs can sue the executors for suspected stealing or making unnecessary transactions with the estate funds.

The duties of an executor are to help distribute assets of an estate to the named beneficiaries. These duties require the executor to follow specific steps as outlined by the law. Failure to do so can open the door to lawsuits and other legal action on behalf of the estate’s heirs. 

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