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What can be done if an executor breaches their fiduciary duties?

On Behalf of | Oct 6, 2021 | Probate Litigation |

Whether you suddenly and unexpectedly lose a loved one in a car crash or whether your loved one’s death came after a long, protracted illness such as cancer no one can deny that the death of a loved one can be a traumatic and life-changing event. Your entire world has been turned upside down and you now face the daunting prospect of having your loved one’s will go through the probate process, a situation that can be confusing if you have never experienced it before.

When a person with a will dies in Louisiana, an executor will be assigned to the estate. The executor will either be named in the deceased’s will or if there is no will or the will does not designate an executor then the court will appoint an executor. The executor is tasked with administering the estate and has many obligations to perform. Overarching all these obligations is the fact that the executor has a fiduciary duty to act in the best interests of the estate and its beneficiaries. If an executor fails to meet their fiduciary duties, they may be held personally liable. The following is an overview of some of an executor’s duties.

Executors control estate assets

Executors have a fiduciary duty to manage all assets included in the deceased’s estate. They must collect and secure all assets and value those assets as soon as possible. Oftentimes a professional must be retained to appraise certain assets such as furniture, collections, jewelry and pieces of art along with business interests both residential and commercial. In addition, these assets must be appropriately insured. Financial accounts must also be identified and valued. If you believe the fiduciary missed important assets or inappropriately valued them, you may be able to hold them personally liable.

Executors pay outstanding debts and other expenses

As a fiduciary, it is the responsibility of the executor of the estate to pay any outstanding bills of the deceased as well as expenses incurred in the probate process. These bills must be paid using estate assets and if there is to be a delay, creditors must be notified. Adequate insurance coverage must also be maintained. Fiduciaries are also responsible for filing certain tax returns. Fiduciaries who fail to make appropriate payments or who otherwise improperly waste estate assets may be held personally liable.

Executors must make timely distributions

Once all an executor’s responsibilities to the estate are completed the final step is to distribute estate assets in a timely fashion. This keeps the estate from sitting in a state of limbo, perhaps losing money over time. If a will makes a specific gift of cash or property, this must be distributed before the rest of the estate can be distributed. If there are insufficient assets in the estate to make these distributions due to mistakes made in paying debts, taxes and expenses, the executory may be held personally liable.

When can beneficiaries sue the executor of an estate?

If a beneficiary has reason to believe estate assets were mismanaged, wasted, improperly distributed or that for some other reason the executor of the estate breached their fiduciary duties, then the beneficiary may want to determine if they have grounds to hold the executor of the estate personally liable for the damages suffered. Executors who do not fulfill their fiduciary duties should be held responsible for their misconduct. Sometimes the only way to do so is to pursue probate litigation based on breach of fiduciary duty.