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Episode 13: What to Do if The Executor is Ignoring You

Posted on Thu Apr 11, 2024, on Estate Planning

 

Estate Planning Lawyer, Peter Klenk

What to Do if The Executor is Ignoring You

Hello. Today we’re going to talk about what to do if an executor is ignoring you. It’s very irritating when this happens. So what’s the situation? Typically, somebody has died, then you are the beneficiary of the estate. It might be from a revocable trust. And then we switch in the word trustee, or it’s an estate where there’s an executor, or if you live in New Jersey, a person called a personal representative, and that person’s job is to gather the assets, pay the bills, and then execute the plan. Hence the word executor, right to carry out the plan. And you’re interested in this because you are the person who’s supposed to get some money. And you’d like to know some information. You’d like to know some things about the timeline. You’d like to know what the assets are. And for some reason, this executor is just not giving you data. So what do you do? 

Well, okay, look, first, the executor’s job is to do all those things. And they don’t necessarily have to return your call every time you call. They don’t have to give you every piece of information. But their job is to keep you informed enough so that you know you’re getting what you’re supposed to be getting. This is usually pretty easy to get periodic email, a letter, something to you that says, “Hey, here’s what’s going on,” even a quick email. It’s all that’s needed. And then you’re pretty happy. Your expectation should not be that you’re getting your money the next day after the person dies. The executor needs to gather everything, assess the situation, get paid, pay the bills, pay for the funeral, file tax returns, maybe sell a house, so it will take them some time. So they should help manage your expectations on the timeline. But again, you should at least know what’s going on. 

Now, if the executor doesn’t respond to your reasonable requests that you’re making about what’s going on. Well, then again, what can you do? Well, first, you can hire an attorney. We do this all the time, our department, we do estate litigation, very busy, because unfortunately, this is not an uncommon thing to have happen. Can we usually resolve it pretty easily? Yeah, you know, usually the executor isn’t being nefarious, they’re not a criminal, they might just be a little lazy. They might be daunted by the task, they might just need a little nudge. And then suddenly, you get the information you want, and you’re fine. And then them knowing that you have an attorney watching over the process helps them get it done in a reasonable amount of time. Okay, well, sometimes that’s not enough. 

Well, remember, we can’t go in and punch the executor. Right? So there’s a process. And in every state, there’s a process to bring the matter before a judge, because that’s what these judges are there for, they’re there when there’s a dispute between the executor and the beneficiaries. So what can we do? Well, typically, we file a petition, and the petition is to force an accountant to gather information, you as a beneficiary, if you haven’t gotten your assets, have the right to hire an attorney and file this petition. You just have that right? 

I mean, think of yourself as a creditor, this executor owes you some money. And well, as you write, we don’t know that. So that’s why we have to go to the judge. And the judge can say to the executor, “Hey, provide the information, what’s going on? This person says they’re supposed to be getting money, why haven’t they gotten it?” Now maybe there’s a completely reasonable explanation, they just have not been giving you that data. Or maybe there isn’t, right? And the worst-case scenario, of course, the executor maybe is living in the house for free. And they don’t want to finish up the estate because they’re living in the house for free. It’s a very common problem.

Maybe they just are mad about something you did to them when you were three, and this is the last chance they had to jerk you around. That could be too, it could be any number of things. But once we filed the petition, we have the right to gather information, we have a right to find out what’s going on. And if we don’t like what we see, we can always go back to the judge and say, “Hey, Judge, now that we have all this data, here’s the problem. You know, this person’s in the house and they’re living free and they’re not leaving. We would like to have an order to force the sale of the property. 

Or if they’re just sitting on things for a long time. We can just say, ‘Hey, this needs to come to a conclusion, Judge. We need a timeline. We need a schedule of distribution about when the person is going to get their funds.'” If it’s bad enough, the judge will remove the executor and put somebody else in to get the job done might be the next person in the line. And the will might be a neutral party might be somebody that we suggest. 

It always depends on the judge and depends on the situation if it’s really bad, and the executor has actually stolen something, or has done something like sell the house to their friend for a lowball price, and it’s cost you money. The other issue is we can go to the judge and prove this. And if the judge finds that they really did take an action that costs you money, they can surcharge the executor and make them pay out of their own funds, money to you to make you whole, because their job was to make you whole right to make sure you’ve got what you were supposed to. And they failed in that job. So if they have, well, then the judge can make it so that you get your money. 

So do we do these things all the time? Yeah, it’s a very common issue that comes up again, unfortunately. It circles back to if you’re listening to this and you’re thinking about your own, we’ll think about who you named as executor. Because if you just not, you know, named your spouse named your eldest kid, because that’s who you thought it should be.

You can see the problem we have here is that if you put the wrong person in charge, and they drag their feet, or they act out badly, or again, they stay in the house, and then they shouldn’t, it causes everybody just a lot of time and money. And it’s very unfortunate. 

So think about your own estate plan and make sure you pick the right person for the job. But if you have an issue with an executor or personal representative or trustee of a revocable trust, not doing their job, feel free to call us if you’re in New Jersey in Pennsylvania, we’ll walk you through the process. And then again, try to get you your money so you can get on with your life, right and be done with all this. So hey, it’s a pleasure chatting with you a little bit here about death and taxes. And I look forward to speaking to you more. If you would like to read more information, go to our website, Klenklaw.com. We have plenty of articles and blogs about subject matter. And again, if you have an issue you’d like to go through, please let us know. We’d be happy to talk to you about these things and like and subscribe. There’ll be more coming. Take care and be well.

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Peter KlenkPeter Klenk

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