Executor Not Communicating with Beneficiaries
When a person dies, someone must be named to handle their estate. This is usually the job of the executor. However, the beneficiaries of the estate must be kept up to date about the process as they wait for it to be distributed.
When the executor doesn’t communicate with them it can cause problems. If you’re in this situation, you may wonder what to do about the executor not communicating with the beneficiaries.
How the Executor is Chosen
First, it may be helpful to understand how the executor is chosen to handle the estate. Much of the time, they are the person named in the last will and testament of the decedent.
When a person dies, a petition to open probate is filed with the court. Probate is the legal process of distributing the estate and ensuring that all debts are paid. Once the petition is filed, the probate process begins.
Appointing or Approving an Executor
If the will names someone to act as executor, the probate court must approve them before they can begin their duties. It will provide them with letters of testamentary, so they can act on behalf of the estate. This allows them to make decisions and handle the tasks of the estate as part of their fiduciary duty.
If there is no will or no one is named as executor, or perhaps they refuse the role, the probate court will need to appoint someone. The court will follow the state law as to who is to be chosen for this role. If the person is a family member, they are often known as a personal representative.
The Job of the Executor to Notify Beneficiaries
One of the first tasks of the executor is to notify beneficiaries that the person has died and that they have been named in the will. Some states give a deadline for when contact must be made. The executor will also be required to notify creditors either through letter or by publishing in a local newspaper.
The executor also pays all claims against the estate within a reasonable timeframe. If they deny the claim, they must take it to court for a ruling.
Distribution to the Beneficiaries
Once all debts have been paid, taxes filed, and the remaining estate is ready to be distributed, the executor must transfer titles or assets to the beneficiaries. If they fail to do this, the heirs won’t receive their inheritance.
The Right of Beneficiaries to Know What the Executor is Doing
It can take months for an executor to get through all their duties to an estate. They must take inventory of all the estate assets, file federal and state taxes, pay debts, and possibly sell assets if necessary as part of estate administration. The executor must also transfer titles and deeds to the rightful heirs. It is not the job of the executor to keep the beneficiaries informed with each action. It is helpful for them to provide updates instead of waiting to be asked.
A lot of this time may be silent waiting for the beneficiaries. However, they can request an update if the executor has been silent too long.
What Happens When the Executor Doesn’t Communicate with Beneficiaries
If the beneficiaries fail to get answers from the executor, they can file a proceeding with the judge to force the executor to file an account of the estate. This account will provide a great deal of information about what the executor has been doing in their role. It includes information, such as:
- Itemized listing of estate assets
- Any funds or property that has been received by the estate
- All expenses of the estate
- Any distributions to be given out
- Any distributions that have already been given out
Beneficiaries have the right to see the account statements, copies of checks, copies of the tax returns, loan applications, and any closing statements. It’s best to provide this information without a court order because if the executor refuses, they will be required to provide it with a judge’s ruling.
Valid Reasons for an Executor Not Communicating with Beneficiaries
As with most situations, there are usually two sides to a story. While the executor has a fiduciary duty to manage the estate in the best way possible, which includes contacting the heirs named in the will, they may have a reason for not doing so.
An executor must make a reasonable effort to find the beneficiary. They can send them notice through their last known mailing address, through close relatives and acquaintances, and through their present and past employers. If the executor cannot locate the person, they aren’t allowed to just forget about it. They must file a petition with the court of the missing beneficiary.
Selling Property Without Communicating with Beneficiaries
The executor may or may not be able to sell estate property for fair market value without first contacting the beneficiaries. It depends on what is being sold and what the state law allows. Some states allow courts to give full authority to the executor or limited authority.
Depending on what authority is given, the executor may not need approval from the beneficiaries before they sell property from the estate. However, they may be required to give Notice of Proposed Action. This allows the beneficiary to have time to object to the sale. The court may need to decide whether the asset can be sold. This process becomes even more necessary when dealing with real property.
What Should Beneficiaries Do If the Executor is Not Communicating?
The first step for the beneficiaries is to send the executor a letter asking for information. They can hire an attorney who is experienced in estate law to compose the letter. Many times, just having a law firm involved will be enough to compel the executor to provide the requested information.
The beneficiaries can get a copy of the will and should understand what their inheritance will include. They should request a copy of the inventory of the estate from the executor. If any problems are anticipated, the heirs can hire an estate attorney to communicate with the executor.
One of the main fears if an executor is not communicating with beneficiaries is that they are committing fraud. The concern of misconduct increases if they can’t get answers from the executor of the estate. Since this is a valid concern, it’s important to get an attorney involved if you can’t get information from the executor in a timely manner.
Besides requiring an accounting from the executor, the court can prevent them from getting their fee, and in some cases, even have them removed. Beneficiaries can petition the court to have the executor removed if they feel this is necessary. However, it can take a long time and the court may not find evidence for removal.
The court will appoint a new executor if it decides to remove them. The executor won’t be removed just because they are taking too long on their tasks. Generally, removal is only granted if there is evidence there has been misconduct on the part of the executor, such as fraud.
Seek Help from Probate Lawyers for Your Inheritance
If you are concerned about an executor not communicating with beneficiaries and wonder what you can do, contact an estate lawyer who can help you decide the next step. Don’t hesitate to take action to protect the estate funds that belong to you and the other heirs. An experienced probate lawyer can help you with this process and protect your best interests.