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Do beneficiaries really sue executors?

On Behalf of | Jan 6, 2022 | Probate Litigation |

Depending on the case, the beneficiary of an estate and even another interested party can take action against an executor. Beneficiaries (or heirs) rely on an executor to administer assets and close out an estate. These individuals have a right to sue an executor (or administrator, as the case may be). Probate litigation in California is a mixture of “law” and “equity.”  By this I mean that there are legal issues, such as provisions in the Probate Code that must be followed.  But also, the probate court is a “court of equity” which considers the fairness and particular circumstances on a case-by-case basis. California courts have a lot of leeway in how they rule on probate litigation.

Failing to work with integrity

When an executor fails to work within a fiduciary role, they may be subject to some form of discipline. As a “fiduciary” an executor must treat all heirs and beneficiaries equitably and must act in the interest of the estate. Sometimes this becomes messy when the executor is also a beneficiary of an estate who may, for example, want to retain estate real property while other heirs want to sell the real property. The power that executors have gives them the means to fail to report assets, misreport cash holdings, choose terms for selling real property, or delay finding an estate’s rightful inheritors. When an executor is appointed and accepts their role, they are then judged in court based on the duty to act in a fiduciary capacity.

Failing to pay creditors

Probate litigation includes time for an executor to assess an estate and handle its bills. Like beneficiaries, creditors can sue an executor for not paying an estate’s debt or for willfully failing to inform them of the administration of the estate. Among finding heirs and notifying the public, an executor confirms that taxes, expenses and debts are paid. These are legal obligations. An executor can be held personally liable if they fail to administer the estate properly.

Probate litigation in California

Having a competent executor is important for estates in probate. The executor, however, needs a few traits to be successful and expedient. They need integrity and they must work diligently. Often administering an estate is more complex than one might have conceived of when they first became executor. But also, probates often involve emotional parties, like family members with deep-seated friction. Sometimes an emotional or otherwise difficult heir or beneficiary can bring an action against an executor who is acting with integrity. It is important for an executor to have a competent attorney defending them under such circumstances.