The executor is not doing their job – how do I get my inheritance?
The job of the executor of a will is to handle the estate of the deceased and carry out his or her wishes. This includes paying off debts and taxes, and distributing the assets to the beneficiaries as stated in the will. The executor has a responsibility to do so in a timely manner, and to act in the best interest of the beneficiaries.
But what if you’re a beneficiary waiting for your inheritance and the executor isn’t doing their job? Can he or she be removed from the position? There are several things you should do if you find yourself in such a situation:
Know the timeline to settle an estate
You may be wondering how long it takes between the reading of the will and the receipt of your inheritance. Depending on how complex the estate is, the process can take anywhere from a few months to several years. The executor can only distribute the assets after the property is evaluated, and debts and taxes are paid. He or she can be held personally liable if inheritances are paid first and there’s not enough left to cover the debts and taxes.
If you are anxious to receive your inheritance, be aware that the process takes time even when things are going well.
Determine whether you have a case
First, try speaking to the executor about your grievances. If that doesn’t work, you may want to take legal action.
To remove someone from the role of executor, you must be able to show the executor is not living up to the responsibilities of the position or is doing something illegal. The court may remove someone from the position of executor if he or she:
- Is no longer eligible (e.g. the executor was convicted of a felony after being named executor)
- Is not suitable (e.g., the executor has a conflict of interest)
- Is not competent (e.g., the executor fails to carry out the wishes of the deceased or fails to do anything at all)
- Mismanages the estate (e.g., steals from the estate or wastes the assets. Keep in mind that is standard for executor fees to be paid to the executor) In general, an executor must do something serious for the court to act. Taking a long time to settle the estate is not usually considered a serious issue on its own; it must be in addition to one of the above examples. In many cases, you will simply have to wait a while longer to receive your inheritance.
Seek legal recourse
If you believe the executor is failing to live up to their duties, you have two legal options: petition the court, or file suit.
Petition the court.
Beneficiaries can petition the court to remove the executor from the position if they can prove the executor should be removed for one of the reasons listed above. The court will hold a hearing where both parties can tell their side of the story, after which the court can remove the executor and appoint another one if it finds in your favor.
You may file a civil lawsuit against an executor if you can show that you’ve suffered due to his or her actions (or lack of actions). For example, this would be an option if the executor has stolen funds or failed to protect the assets. Keep in mind that you may be able to settle before going to court.
Get advice from an attorney in your state
No matter what step of the process you’re in, you should speak with a lawyer if you have any concerns. Find an estate planning attorney or probate attorney in your state, or speak with a top-rated attorney on the phone for a low flat fee using Avvo Advisor.