An executor is a person who is appointed to carry out the instructions of a will after the death of the person who made it.
The executor has a fiduciary duty to the beneficiaries of the estate, which means that they have to act in good faith and in the best interests of those beneficiaries. Unfortunately, sometimes executors engage in misconduct, which can create problems for the beneficiaries.
Some examples of executor misconduct include:
- Participating in theft, misappropriation, or embezzlement.
- Harming the interests of the estate and its beneficiaries.
- Mismanaging estate assets.
- Failing to pay the estate’s creditors, taxes, or other expenses.
- Withholding inheritances or needlessly delaying the administration of the estate.
- Hiding, omitting, or otherwise misrepresenting estate assets.
- Collecting inflated fees.
- Disobeying court orders.
As you can see, there are many ways in which an executor can engage in misconduct, and if you are a beneficiary of an estate, it’s important to be aware of these potential problems. If you have any concerns about the way an executor is handling an estate, you should seek legal advice as soon as possible.
What is Executor Misconduct?
Executor misconduct refers to any inappropriate or illegal action taken by the executor of an estate. As discussed above, this can include anything from self-dealing (using estate assets for personal gain) to outright theft. Executor misconduct can have serious consequences for the individuals involved, as well as for the beneficiaries of the estate.
Can Heirs Sue an Executor?
Yes, heirs can sue an executor if they commit misconduct or otherwise violate their fiduciary duties. For instance, if the executor engages in fraud and steals from the estate, the heirs can initiate a lawsuit against the executor in an attempt to recover damages to compensate them for the theft.
Additionally, under California Probate Code §8500, the heirs of the estate (or any other interested party) can petition the probate court for the removal of the executor from office.
According to California Probate Code §8502, an executor can be removed from office for any of the following reasons:
- The executor has wasted, embezzled, mismanaged, or committed fraud on the estate, or is about to do so.
- The executor is incapable of properly executing the duties of the office or is otherwise not qualified for appointment.
- The executor has wrongfully neglected the estate or has long neglected to perform any act as executor.
- Removal is otherwise necessary for the protection of the estate or interested persons.
How Can Heirs and Beneficiaries Get Their Rightful Assets Back?
If an executor in California commits misconduct while handling the estate of a deceased person, the heirs and beneficiaries may be able to get their rightful assets back by filing a lawsuit against the executor.
California Probate Code §9601 states that if an executor breaches a fiduciary duty, they can be held liable for:
- Any loss or depreciation in value of the decedent’s estate resulting from the breach of duty, with interest.
- Any profit made by the personal representative through the breach of duty, with interest.
- Any profit that would have accrued to the decedent’s estate if the loss of profit resulted from the breach of duty.
In some cases, there may be additional legal claims that can be pursued against the executor, and the court might even order the executor to pay punitive, double, or treble damages as additional compensation to the aggrieved heirs and beneficiaries.
No matter what the circumstances, it’s vital that you discuss your situation with an experienced probate litigation lawyer as soon as possible if you believe that the executor of an estate has committed misconduct. An attorney can investigate the allegations and take appropriate legal action to recover any assets that have been misappropriated and/or remove the executor from their position and have someone else appointed in their place.
Have questions? We’re happy to discuss.
Call (424) 320-9444 or email [email protected]
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About RMO, LLP
RMO LLP serves clients in Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Ventura, Santa Barbara, San Francisco, Orange County, San Diego, Kansas City, Miami, and communities throughout California, Florida, Missouri, and Kansas. Our founder, Scott E. Rahn, has been named “Top 100 – Trust and Estate Litigation” by SuperLawyers, Trusts and Estates Litigator of the Year, and Best Lawyers in America for Litigation – Trusts and Estates. For a free consultation, call (424) 320-9444 or visit: https://rmolawyers.com.