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From Our “Ask a Question” Mailbag: “I am the executor of my mother’s Bucks County, Pennsylvania estate. My brother always tries to tell me what to do, but I am the executor, not him. I want to stop talking to him and just get the job done. Do Executors Need to Consult Beneficiaries Prior to Making Decisions?”
Probate Attorney Daniella Horn
Do Executors Need to Consult Beneficiaries Prior to Making Decisions?
This is a good question, and as is the answer to most legal questions, the answer here is “it depends.”
Having an “Executor” of an estate means that the Decedent had a Will executed before passing away. Alternatively, if there is no Will, an Administrator will be appointed based on the Intestate Statute and the next of kin to the Decedent. As your question is about your powers as Executor, that means there was a Will that you filed that Will with the county, and the county has named you as the Executor.
First, What Does the Will Say?
Most Wills provide a list of powers an Executor has when acting in this Fiduciary capacity. The list may or may not include the broad authority to make decisions for the Estate without consulting with the Beneficiaries, or it may expressly state that the Executor should consult with the Beneficiary before making decisions.
If the Will gave you clear instructions, you must follow them.
What If the Will Doesn’t Address Consulting with Beneficiaries?
However, we consult the law if the Will is silent about this question. We consult Pennsylvania law since your Estate is in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. The default answer would be found in the Pennsylvania Statutes, Title 20, Chapter 33(B), which states that the Personal Representative (which would include both an Executor or an Administrator) shall have the right to sell the decedent’s real Estate, collect insurance, continue his or her business interests, form an entity to operate the Estate’s business, invest estate funds etc. (see the Pennsylvania Statute) That means executors have the right to make such decisions necessary to administer the Estate in a way that is in the Estate’s best interest. It does not require them to consult with the beneficiaries before making decisions.
That said, an Executor/Administrator DOES have the responsibility to keep beneficiaries reasonably informed. There is no clear-cut answer as to what that includes, so it is always better to err on the side of caution.
Even Though You “Can” Avoid Consulting, “Should” You?
Yes, your brother has been irritating. But isn’t the goal to get this Estate done as quickly as possible?
Why not speak with the Beneficiaries, tell them what is happening, and ask their thoughts when possible? Ultimately, this is their money also, and as the Fiduciary, you are obligated to act in the best interest of the Estate and the beneficiaries. Further, if it doesn’t delay the process or affect the integrity of the Estate, it doesn’t hurt to consult with the Beneficiaries throughout the process.
If you have reached your final straw and have no more patience, have the Probate Lawyer share the information. It may take more legal time, but this is much cheaper than having a legal conflict with the beneficiaries.
What Action Can a Beneficiary Take Against You?
If a beneficiary is unhappy with how an executor/administrator handles an estate or feels that they are not communicating sufficiently, they can file for formal accounting. Such an Accounting would require the executor to submit a report to the judge. This formal report must explain every financial action taken and provide supporting data in a specific format. This process is costly and timely. If you share this information with the Beneficiaries throughout the process, you will likely instead be able to send them an “Informal Accounting,” which does not require judicial action.
Lastly, as I often like to remind clients, while it is true that the Executor/Administrator does not need to consult with beneficiaries before making decisions, this fact does not stop a beneficiary from filing a claim against an Executor/Administrator who acts in a way contrary to their wishes. The court will not stop a “losing” claim from being filed. Further, the litigation process is often long and expensive. So, it doesn’t hurt to share the information beforehand, if possible, to reduce the risk of being taken to court.
In Conclusion, Do Executors Need to Consult Beneficiaries Before Making Decisions?
I hope you found this short article about Do Executors Need to Consult Beneficiaries Before Making Decisions helpful. I have also included some links for more detailed information. Contact us if you want to know more or have an estate that needs our help. Let our Probate and Estate Planning lawyers help walk you through what can be a confusing process. Feel free to contact our office for a free consultation. It’s All We Do:
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Daniella Horn, Esq. Pennsylvania Probate Lawyer, New Jersey Probate Attorney
Peter Klenk is the founding member of Klenk Law, a seven attorney boutique estate planning law firm. We serve clients in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Minnesota and Florida. Peter Klenk received his Masters in Taxation LL.M. from NYU Law School and his J.D. from the University of Minnesota Law School. He served his country in the Navy JAGC during Desert Storm. Easy to talk to, feel free to call Peter for an appointment. We will make the process as easy as possible!
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