Your Beneficiary Rights During Estate Administration
Contact us if you suspect wrongdoing.
Handling Issues with the Estate Representative
As a beneficiary of an estate, you often have to patiently wait while the personal representative handles the various tasks involved in administering an estate. Hopefully, the executor regularly communicates with you or at least answers the occasional call or email with a request for an update. Often, however, months (or perhaps years) can go by without hearing anything. And, often, the beneficiary’s calls get unanswered, or worse, are met with hostility.
If you are having communication problems with the personal representative, one of the first things we do is get a copy of the estate file. These are public records and will contain all of the filings by the executor from the opening of the estate going forward. This file will have things such as the initial application, the 90-day inventory, annual accounts, affidavits showing that you have met the creditor notice requirements, notices sent out by the Clerk regarding any deficiencies found in the filings. You can either appear in person at the courthouse and review the file or coordinate with the Clerk to have copies made and mailed to you. You are typically charged per page if copies are needed.
Do you suspect there has been exploitation of the estate by another beneficiary or representative? If so, watch the below video by Chris Wilms.
Using the Estate File to Find Issues
Once you review the estate file, you (or your attorney) will often be able to spot issues, such as things that you would usually see which are absent or things reported to the Court which is contradictory to what you already know about the estate. You might also notice whether the Clerk has had to expend effort chasing down required filings from the personal representative.
One of the things we look for is whether we have grounds to remove a personal representative and replace them.
Example Grounds for Removal:
- Was the person was not properly qualified to begin with (they are under 18, adjudged incompetent, is a convicted felon without restoration of citizenship, is illiterate, etc.)?
- Did the person make false representations to be appointed?
- Is a conflict of interest likely to hinder a fair administration?
- Has there been some misconduct in the administration of the estate?
- One of the duties of a personal representative is to administer the estate efficiently. If an estate is taking years to administer, you can argue there is a breach justifying removal. However, there are often reasons why an administration might take several years, so the delay is not necessarily a reason on its own.
The Process of Removing a Personal Representative
Upon the removal of a personal representative, another qualifying person may apply, but the Clerk may opt to appoint a public administrator, which is a person that is designated to handle cases where there is not another appropriate person. This individual is usually an attorney that practices in that county.
The process of removing a personal representative depends on the reason. There are a handful of reasons in which the Clerk may remove a personal representative summarily (without a hearing). However, in most cases, you will need to have a hearing. A hearing requires a verified (sworn) petition be filed and served along with a notice of hearing. The process mirrors a lawsuit in many ways but is typically much faster.