An executor’s job and their fiduciary duty

On Behalf of | Dec 11, 2023 | Estate Administration & Probate |

When someone creates an estate plan, they usually designate someone to be their executor. That’s the person who is entrusted with the duty of making sure that their final wishes are followed and their estate is properly settled.

An executor has a “fiduciary duty,” or legal obligation, to act in the best interests of the estate and its beneficiaries.

What does that mean in practice?

An executor of someone’s estate is expected to handle the probate process as efficiently as possible so that there are no undue delays in settling the estate. They’re also expected to take the appropriate steps to secure the deceased’s assets and make sure that nothing that belongs to the estate is misappropriated, wasted or stolen. If the estate is large or complicated, the executor may also be required to manage the estate’s assets carefully, making informed financial decisions that aim to preserve or grow their value.

Most executors do their job well and only have the best interests of the estate’s beneficiaries in mind, but problems can crop up. Beneficiaries have every reason to be concerned if they experience problems with:

  • A lack of transparency: If an executor is reluctant to explain what they’ve done or to “open the books” and let you see what transactions have been made, that could be a sign that they’re either hiding something or have lost control of what’s happening with the estate. Either way, that’s a problem.
  • A lack of communication: A beneficiary has every right to stay informed. If an executor won’t return phone calls or is non-responsive to a beneficiary’s concerns about the estate’s progress through probate, that’s also a sign of potential mismanagement.
  • Displays of favoritism: An executor is supposed to treat all of the beneficiaries fairly and follow the terms laid down by the decedent’s estate plan. If they favor one beneficiary over another, that could be a sign of a conflict of interest or a general lack of impartiality.
  • Unexplained delays: Sometimes an executor simply isn’t up to the job. If they seem overwhelmed and unable to keep up with the entire probate process, that’s a significant issue.

What can you do about it if you’ve got doubts about an executor? Sometimes it’s wisest to simply request an accounting of the executor’s actions and see if you can iron out the dispute through negotiations, while other times it’s better to petition the court for the executor’s removal and replacement. Seeking experienced legal guidance can help you learn more.