The executor of a will is the most critical player in ensuring that your loved one’s wishes are carried out correctly. They are responsible for ensuring that beneficiaries receive a prompt and fair inheritance, that the estate is financially secure and all debts are valid and paid, and that the probate process proceeds smoothly. The executor of a will ensures a will moves through probate rapidly. An unfit executor can hold up an inheritance for an extended period.
Executors are people. They change over time, are influenced by greed, or can be deceiving. An executor of a will may have been named years before it becomes relevant, and they may have fallen into substance abuse or other hardship that no longer makes them appropriate for the job.
If you believe the executor of a will in which you are a beneficiary is not competent, is corrupt, or can otherwise harm the process, you have a legal right to speak up. All parties must trust the executor. They spend months or even years filing paperwork through the appropriate legal and government channels, so consistency is crucial.
To understand why an incompetent, illegal, or corrupt executor needs to be contested, you need to understand their powers and responsibilities.
An executor is responsible for using money in the estate for fulfilling the decadent’s will. This allows moral determinations to be made on the executor’s part. They are held in check by fiduciary duty to the estate, which means their decisions should be in the state’s best interest—but without a contest, the executor may act deceptively in their self-interest. They are required to pay off debts and transfer inheritances to beneficiaries according to the will’s instructions and follow the will’s requirements. If an executor does not act in the best interest of the estate, they should be removed.
There are many general guidelines for removing an executor early on in the process, though these vary by state. Here are a few instances that may be grounds for removal as probate begins:
As probate goes forward, there are other reasons to remove an executor. These generally require the executor to be contested by a beneficiary. Simply disagreeing with a correct decision in accordance with the will is not a reason to contest the executor and will generally be thrown out by probate court. The following may be valid reasons for a contest:
If an executor is not qualified or is guilty of any of the offenses above, you can contest their position. There is never a guarantee of success, but you are more likely to succeed with proper legal guidance. The challenge to the executor must be in the best interest of the estate, not from a place of jealousy or contempt.
When contesting an executor, you must present compelling evidence in probate court in front of a judge. A lawyer can help you prepare or collect and present the evidence on your behalf. Once an executor is challenged, they are given time to prepare a rebuttal to your claim. They may also correct whatever term is being challenged or voluntarily quit the position. If these do not occur, a judge will present a ruling.
It is up to a beneficiary to protect their loved one’s legacy and their estate. Extensive damage can be done if an unfit executor is at the helm. Challenging their authority is a must, especially in light of compelling evidence.