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Can an Executor Take Everything?

Posted on Tue Nov 3, 2020, on Probate and Estate Administration

From Our “Ask a Question,” Mailbag: “My father died, and my brother is now the Executor. He has changed the locks on the house and emptied all the accounts.  I am worried about what he is doing. Can an executor take everything?”

can an executor take everything?

Probate Lawyer, Peter Klenk

Can an Executor Take Everything?

When a person dies, there is a process to make sure their assets pass to the correct people.  This process is called Probate. In some states, Probate can be difficult, but it is not in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.  As part of this process, the Executor files the Will and, in exchange, receives paperwork naming her Executor.  The Executor’s duty is to secure the estate assets. If they fail, the Executor can be personally responsible.

For example, Wayne Wynnwood files his father’s Will and is named Executor. He doesn’t winterize his father’s house, and the pipes freeze, causing damage. Wayne’s siblings have their Estate Litigation Attorney file a claim against Wayne. If the judge finds that he was negligent, Wayne must pay for the damage.

What Are the Executor’s Responsibility to Distribute?

Once appointed by the state, the executor has a fiduciary duty to secure the deceased person’s assets. Further, the executor has the fiduciary duty to the beneficiaries to distribute the assets as the Will directs.  Once taxes and creditors are paid, the Executor must distribute.

For example, Bryn Mawr is the Executor of her mother’s Will. She secured and then sold the house. She also sold all her mother’s stocks. As Executor, she reimbursed herself for estate expenses such as the filing fees and attorney costs. Further, she reimbursed her sister for the funeral that her sister put on her credit card. After receiving confirmation that all taxes were paid, Bryn Mawr had her Probate Attorney draft a settlement agreement for the siblings. Once signed, she promptly divided the funds equally as the Will directed.

What if the Executor Fails to Distribute the Inheritance?

The executor is given broad powers to secure and preserve assets. But, that power is not limitless.

Using the above facts, if Bryn Mawr decided to hold the estate assets, you could force her to distribute.  You could have our Estate Litigation attorneys file a Petition forcing Bryn Mawr to appear.  The executor must satisfactorily justify her actions to the judge.  If she cannot, the judge can order her to make the distributions. 

For more information, follow this link to my article about Breach of Fiduciary Duty.

Can an Executor Withhold Money From a Beneficiary?

I hope you found helpful this short article responding to the question, Can an Executor Take Everything.  I have also included some links for more detailed information. If you are curious about updating your Will, Power of Attorney, or Living Will, contact us. Let our Estate Planning lawyers help walk you through what can be a confusing process. In fact, feel free to contact our office for a free consultation. 

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