My sister died in 2011. She left a will, naming another relative as executor. She has not filed any paperwork regarding this estate in the local court system. She appears to be writing checks, selling assets etc. She refuses to discuss the matter. This seems sketchy to me and other concerned family members. I would guess the total (starting) value of the estate to be at least mid six figures. We are baffled.
Any suggestions on how we can get some transparency here?
I agree that you need to contact an attorney to help you get to the bottom of this. The limited facts that you provide, however, suggests that your sister may have engaged in some "home-made" estate planning. The fact that her "executor" has been able to access the assets at all suggests that she was either a joint owner on the accounts or she was designated as the beneficiary. Otherwise, she would not be able to gain any access to the assets at all. It does not matter what the Will says, if the assets were all jointly held or designated someone as beneficiary, since a Will only applies to assets titled in the decedent's name alone.
(Incidentally, she is not the executor unless an estate has been opened and she has been appointed as such, by the court). Otherwise, she is the "nominated executor," at best, and she would have no legal rights, in that position. Given that two years have passed, you should check the probate court records in the county where your sister resided at the time of death to determine if a probate estate has been opened. If one has not, I am very concerned that your sister's Will may never be given effect.
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You would do well to speak with an experienced probate attorney. Normally, an inventory and account should be available at this point. There are some situations where "informal" dealings can occur, but generally not with amounts north of $10K. At that point, you are going to have to file paperwork with the court. An attorney could help encourage your relative to do what is required of her, or arrange for a replacement executrix/administrator to be appointed.
Consult an attorney
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You need to hire an experinced probate attorney as soon as possible to take legal action against the executor and to remove her as soon as possible. It appears that you have reason to be concerned. I have 40 years of experience doing this if you care to contact me. Good luck.
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Real Estate Attorney
You absolutely need to speak with an attorney.
You can compel your relative to produce and file the will in Court. It is possible that your relative is simply disregarding the will and self-dealing with estate property. You should reach out to counsel immediately if you have some interest in the estate.
Christopher Vaughn-Martel is a Massachusetts lawyer with the firm of Vaughn-Martel Law in Boston, Massachusetts. All answers are based on generalized Massachusetts law and the limited facts presented by the questioner. All answers are provided to the general public for educational purposes only and no attorney-client relationship is formed by providing an answer to a question. If you would like an attorney with Vaughn-Martel Law to review your specific situation and provide you with legal options or information specific to you, you may schedule a telephone or office by calling 617-357-4898 or visiting us at www.vaughnmartel.com. Our office charges $100.00 for a consultation, and applies your consultation fee to your first bill if the Firm is hired to perform further work.
Estate Planning Attorney
It is possible that all property was joint. This a way people sometimes seek to avoid probate. Such an approach can be open to attack. It could be that your sister used a trust, and you are not a beneficiary. In that event you might have no effective recourse. Some clues may be available in the registry of deeds if you sister owned any real estate. Without knowing more, I would not comment on your likelihood of success. But it you do want to go to court, go and see an attorney experienced in probate litigation, and see what he or she thinks of your facts.