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3 ways an executor can fail in their duty to an estate

On Behalf of | Dec 15, 2022 | Probates & Trusts

The executor or personal representative of an estate is someone in a position of authority, even if it is only temporary. They have the authority to distribute property from the estate and to resolve someone’s outstanding obligation. They file tax paperwork, close accounts and distribute people’s inheritances.

Often, the probate courts or testator of the estate will appoint someone who is responsible and ethical. However, there are also situations in which the executor of an estate fails to perform their duties as required under state law.

What are some of the situations that might lead to family members challenging an executor or their actions?

  1. Failing to take necessary steps

One of the most common failings of those tasked with estate administration is the failure to take key steps in that process. Whether someone fails to file paperwork with the probate courts or secure assets to protect them from vandals and thieves, their actions could increase how long estate administration takes and diminish the overall value of the estate.

  1. Acting for their own profit

The fiduciary duty that an executor has to an estate and by extension its beneficiaries is the most significant legal obligation one party can have to another. Fiduciary duty requires putting the best interests of the other party above your own wishes and preferences.

The executor should manage estate resources to maximize what they can distribute to beneficiaries. Hiring their own small business to provide services and overcharging for them would be an example of violating that duty.

  1. Not following state law or testator instructions

In some situations, state probate law dictates what happens during estate administration. Other times, it is largely the testamentary documents that determine what steps an executor must take. If they act of their own volition and make decisions that violate state law or that are contrary to the instructions in the estate plan without appropriate justification, then family members may have a reason to challenge them in probate court.


The litigation that arises when family members question the efforts of an executor can lead to that individual’s removal or reprimand. It can also potentially halt transactions that would diminish the value of the estate, such as the sale of real property for less than the fair market value.

Learning more about common reasons for probate litigation can help those worried about the questionable actions of an executor.