Even people who have carefully designed estate plans can have their estates wind up in probate court. Sometimes, family members or other heirs bring a challenge against the will itself. Other times, people challenge the person in charge of handling an estate. You may not think of yourself as a contentious person, but sometimes bringing a challenge is the right thing to do.
Improper estate management or a violation of the fiduciary duty to the estate and its beneficiaries are serious concerns. There are certain duties and responsibilities that an executor or trustee should fulfill. This role is an important one that impacts the legacy of the deceased and the futures of their heirs. If the person in this critical position fails to do the right thing, you may need to consider challenging him or her. Watch for warning signs of improper execution of the last will.
Failure to act in a timely manner
Resolving things in an estate is not always a quick process. Many times, it can take weeks or months to move through each individual step of the process. It is common for heirs and beneficiaries to feel impatient faced with a long wait for the resolution of an estate. Don't let impatience push you to bring a challenge, but make sure the executor is doing something.
In some cases, executors or trustees fail to perform their duties. There may be complications that prevent them from doing so. Whether it's an issue at their job or the fact that they live in a different city, many factors can prevent an executor from fulfilling his or her obligations to the testator.
Not handling duties in a timely manner can result in financial losses. In some cases, it can cause significant damage to the estate as planned. If you believe that the executor is completely failing to fulfill my obligations as outlined in the escape plan, that may be grounds for a challenge.
Executors should work in the best interest of the beneficiaries, not themselves
In some ways, handling an estate or trust is a thankless job. There are a lot of obligations, and very little reward. Many testators choose to leave some compensation for the trustee or executor. Barring that, the person handling the estate should not profit from doing so.
However, some unscrupulous people will mismanage an estate or steal from one for personal benefit. For example, if you discover that physical assets are missing from the home, such as valuable art or jewelry, this could be a sign of an executor abusing the position.
Additionally, sometimes people sell or give away assets to people for less than the market value. Sometimes the buyer will offer the executor a kickback for that discount. Other times, they have a close relationship to the executor. This kind of behavior is a breach of the fiduciary trust inherent in the position of executor or trustee. All decisions should be made based on the best interest of the beneficiaries, and that usually means selling assets for as much as possible.
If you believe an executor is giving away, stealing or intentionally undervaluing assets from the estate, that's another warning sign that you may need to challenge the executor's actions in court.