When your loved one passes away, an executor will be in charge of managing the estate. This individual, who may or may not have been chosen by your loved one, has a number of responsibilities, including handling the estate’s debts and ensuring that inheritances are distributed in accordance with existing estate planning documents, like a will.
Although the estate administration process should go smoothly, all too often executors mismanage estates, causing significant financial harm to the estate itself as well as those who stand to benefit from the estate.
If you suspect that your loved one’s estate is being mismanaged, then you need to be prepared to take legal action. But before doing so, you’ll want to make sure that you’ve got evidence to support your legal filing.
Signs that an estate is being mismanaged
The best way to ensure that you have evidence to support your position is to identify key indicators of mismanagement and document them accordingly. Red flags of estate mismanagement include:
- Poor communication: If you’re a named beneficiary, then you deserve to be kept up-to-date on the estate’s status, and you should be notified when and how you’re included in your loved one’s estate distribution plan. The executor should also keep you informed of distribution plans. If they keep you in the dark on any of these issues, then you need to start asking questions and consider whether legal action is necessary to protect your interests.
- Delinquent accounting: Shortly after your loved one’s death, the estate executor is supposed to conduct an accounting of the estate that identifies all existing assets. This inventory should be filed with the court. But if the executor is dragging their feet on this, then that may be an indication that they’re acting contrary to the estate plan terms and counter to your best interests as a beneficiary.
- Delays in issuing an inheritance: Although an executor has to pay off all estate debts before it can distribute inheritances, you may run into a situation where the executor of your loved one’s estate withholds your inheritance. If they do so unjustifiably, then you may need to take legal action to obtain a court order for release of those assets. Keep in mind, some executors delay and withhold issuing inheritances because they have a strained relationship with the named beneficiary, or they are trying to get revenge against the beneficiary for some reason.
- Selling assets for improper amounts: As a fiduciary, an executor is supposed to make decisions that are in the best interests of the estate. But an executor may sell estate assets for far less than they are worth with the intent of pocketing any excess revenue. This, of course, is wrongdoing of the highest extent, and the executor should be held accountable when this happens.
- Allowing assets to lapse: As mentioned above, the executor is in charge of paying the estate’s debts and protecting its assets. But sometimes executors fail to take out appropriate insurance for assets or they even neglect to pay mortgage on a property, thereby resulting in foreclosure. This deprives you and the estate of the assets that should be properly protected.
Protect your interests throughout the probate process
A lot of things can go wrong during the estate administration and probate processes. As a result, you need to stay on your toes and be observant of anything that may raise suspicions of wrongdoing. And if you think that your loved one’s estate has been mishandled or you’ve otherwise been financially disadvantaged, then you might want to consider speaking to an attorney who can help you take the legal action that may be necessary to protect your interests.