What can I do to protect my interest in my parent’s estate if I don’t like what the administrator of estate is doing with the money?

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What can I do to protect my interest in my parent’s estate if I don’t like what the administrator of estate is doing with the money?

For example paying herself $30 per hour for paperwork and errands but pays me $10 hour for yard workand errands and sometimes the same things like taking mom to appointments.It states in the Will that we are supposed to be equal (my mom still alive but in nursing home). The administrator is my sister.

Asked on March 3, 2014 under Estate Planning, Michigan

Answers:

FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 7 years ago | Contributor

Many times when a person is creating a will or a trust, s/he will nominate a child or other family member to act as executor or trustee. In theory, there is nothing wrong with doing this. However, in my many years of practice, I have seen problems arise after the death of the parent or other loved one because the trustee or executor is no longer getting along with the rest of the family. Communication has broken down, tensions have risen, and eventually the family is at war over the estate of their loved one.

Special duty of trust and responsiblity

A trustee or executor is a “fiduciary” of the estate and the beneficiaries of the will or trust. A fiduciary is someone who has a special duty of trust and responsibility to an individual or a group, such as the beneficiaries of a will or trust.

This means that the executor or trustee must always act with the best interests of the estate and beneficiaries in mind and must not intentionally engage in any act or make any decisions which could harm the estate or the beneficiaries.

Required: honest open communication

Moreover, the trustee or executor is required to act in accordance with the probate code and must communicate honestly and openly with the beneficiaries, gather all property of the estate, and prepare an accounting of all property that passes through the estate.

The benefits of a professional trustee or executor

Because of the unique and special duties of an executor or trustee, I usually advise my clients to consider naming a professional to act as executor or trustee rather than a child or other family member. This reduces the likelihood of drama and chaos if familial relationships breakdown after the client's death. Although hiring a professional costs money, I believe it is a wise investment. After all, it's better for the family to be united against the professional executor or trustee than to be at odds with one another.

Getting expert help

If you are currently planning your estate and are interested in naming a professional fiduciary to act as trustee or executor, consider your bank. For a fee, most banks are more than happy to provide such services to their customers. There are also a number of companies which specialize in acting as executor or trustee…. and in your state you also have the option of naming a licensed “private professional fiduciary” – an individual who is licensed by the California Dept. of Consumer Affairs.

Compelling the executor or trustee to comply

As a beneficiary of a will or trust, if you find yourself in the position of dealing with a trustee or executor who refuses to communicate or is otherwise mishandling the estate, you are not at his or her mercy. You do have options. Whether your situation involves a misbehaving trustee or a misbehaving executor, you should consider filing a petition with the probate court to compel the executor or trustee to comply with the terms of the will or trust. If the court determines that the terms of the will or trust are not being carried out, it will enter an order requiring the trustee or executor to perform certain acts as set forth in the will or trust document within a specified time period. Failure of the trustee or executor to comply with the court's order could result in his being held in contempt and may even necessitate his removal as trustee or executor.

If you suspect mismangement or worse

You may also want to file a petition for an accounting with the probate court. If the court finds in your favor, the trustee or executor must provide a detailed breakdown of all monies or other assets which have come into or gone out of the trust. Moreover, if you believe the trustee or executor has embezzled or mismanaged the money or other assets left by the decedent (the person who died and left the will or established the trust), you may also have a civil claim for “conversion”, which is similar to the criminal charge of theft.

In cases involving an irrevocable trust, the law requires the trustee to provide the beneficiaries with a copy of the trust document upon on the death of the settlor (the person who established the trust). If the trustee has failed to provide the beneficiaries with a copy of the trust document, they should consider filing a motion to compel its production with the probate court.

If the probate judge finds that the trustee has failed and refused to provide copies of the trust document to the beneficiaries, he will order the trustee to produce the trust document within a specified period of time. Failure of the trustee to comply with the court's order could result in his being held in contempt or even removed as trustee.

Seeking removal of a trustee or executor

Another option for anyone who is dealing with a trustee or executor who is not properly handling the estate is to seek his or her removal. In some instances, the will or trust document may set forth reasons for the removal of the executor or trustee.

Answer: I suggest that you consult with a Wills and trust attorney in your locality to assist you. One can be found on attorneypages.com.


IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although AttorneyPages.com has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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