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3 ways executors can violate their fiduciary duty to an estate

On Behalf of | Jul 27, 2021 | Estate Planning

Serving as the executor of an estate doesn’t just require someone’s time and commitment. It also requires that they put their own interests aside in favor of the beneficiaries of the estate. The executor of an estate and a trustee administering a trust will have a fiduciary duty not to the testator but to the beneficiaries of the estate or trust.

It is their job to put the needs of the estate and the people who will benefit from it above their own wishes. Fiduciary duty is the highest level of legal obligation one person can have to another. Unfortunately, even well-intentioned people could violate the fiduciary duty that they have to an estate and its beneficiaries.

Delays in administration

Serving as an executor or trustee is a demanding job. You have to review documentation, identify and secure assets, and then manage them. You may also need to initiate proceedings in probate courts, pay creditors and transfer bills out of the name of the deceased party.

With so many responsibilities, executors could easily make a mistake or oversight that impacts estate administration or even the value of the assets in the estate. Family members could bring a claim against the trustee or executor if their inaction put the estate at risk.

Trying to play favorites

The fiduciary duty of a trustee or executor is to the beneficiaries of the estate or trust, and they should treat all of them with the same regard and concern. Unfortunately, some executors will let their personal relationships with the individual beneficiaries impact their decisions, possibly leading to unfair behavior or even a violation of the terms set in the estate plan.

No beneficiary should receive more than others in the estate or have the first choice of assets or property unless the testator left specific instructions giving that person such preferential treatment.

Self-dealing or embezzling from the estate

Fiduciary duty means prioritizing beneficiaries over yourself. However, handling a lot of valuable property, heirlooms or financial assets can inspire greed and some people. Executors who steal or embezzle assets from an estate violate their fiduciary duty by putting their own wishes ahead of what would be best for the beneficiaries.

Simple mistakes usually don’t qualify as a violation of fiduciary duty, but inaction, theft from the estate or other inappropriate behavior could give rise to fiduciary litigation. The better you understand the role of an executor, the easier it will be to hold one accountable when their actions don’t align with their responsibilities.