First let me start by giving a definition of ”executor”. An executor is an individual who is appointed by the court to manage the estate of a deceased person (the “decedent”).
(If you need to talk to an experienced Houston probate attorney about seeking to remove the executor of an estate, fill out our contact form, or call us at 281-242-0995.)
The responsibilities of the executor of an estate generally fall under the following categories:
- Making an inventory of the estate assets within 90 days of being appointed;
- Paying the debts of the estate;
- Recovering amounts owed to the estate by others; and
- After the debts have been paid, distributing the remaining estate assets to the beneficiaries named in the Decedent’s will.
An executor has certain fiduciary duties to the beneficiaries of the estate. A fiduciary duty arises when someone is appointed to a position of faith and trust and given powers over financial assets for the benefit of another. An executor’s fiduciary duty is to do what is in the best interest of the beneficiaries of the estate.
Believe it or not, typically there is not a much oversight of an executor by the court that appoints him to that position other than requiring the executor to file an inventory within 90 days. The reason for this lack of oversight is that most wills are intentionally drafted to ask the court not to impose oversight on the executor in an effort to make the process of probate faster and cheaper. In most cases, this faster and cheaper process works just fine. However, occasionally the process backfires when an executor decides to set aside his fiduciary duty to the beneficiaries of the estate in favor of his own self interest. When this happens, beneficiaries should take immediate action to prevent the executor from running off with their inheritance.
Because executors in Texas are largely free from court supervision it is often difficult for an estate beneficiary to stop a runaway executor. However, a knowledgeable and experienced estate litigation attorney can assist you, as a beneficiary of an estate, to hold an an executor accountable when he decides to abuse the position of trust to which he has been appointed.
If a beneficiary already has in his possession hard evidence of an executor’s misbehavior, holding the executor accountable is merely a matter of presenting this evidence to the probate court judge. However, typically there is merely a strong suspicion that something is wrong. In such cases, The Texas Probate Code (the rules that govern probate court as well as executors) state that a beneficiary of an estate may demand an accounting from the executor after 15 months from the date of the executor’s appointment. Unfortunately, the damage has usually been done after 15 months.
It is extremely frustrating for a beneficiary to feel, given the character and/or past behavior of the executor, that their inheritance is probably being stolen from them but not be able to do anything about it because of the 15 month rule. To hold an executor accountable prior to the expiration of 15 months from the date of his appointment, without hard evidence of misbehavior, requires hiring a skilled probate litigation attorney who can creatively combine prior case law and probate code provisions to create the authority needed to safeguard your future inheritance.
Paul Romano is a Texas estate attorney who has the skills and experience to assist you in holding a runaway executor accountable. If you would like a free consultation with Texas estate attorney Paul Romano, please visit our contact page or call us at 281-242-0995.