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Determining a breach of fiduciary duty

The executor of an estate has many responsibilities with regard to managing the assets of a decedent. Ohio residents should be careful when they are choosing who to place in this position. In a case that was brought before the Supreme Court, the plaintiff alleged that the defendants, the co-executors of an estate, failed in their fiduciary duty when they overvalued an asset by $3 million. The plaintiff, who was the sole beneficiary of the estate, argued the miscalculated evaluation resulted in excessive federal estate taxes.

The defendants offered many special defenses. One of the defenses was that they were permitted to depend on a third party in assessing the value of the assets of the estate. When the defendants applied for a summary judgment in the case, it was rejected as premature. Right before the trial was to begin and after several depositions and discovery hearings, the defendants moved again for summary judgment while the plaintiff applied for a partial summary judgment.

Based on the assertion that there was inadequate evidence to present the case to a jury, the trial court granted a summary judgment in favor of the defendants. There was no expert testimony offered by the plaintiff that could attest to the proper protocol for when it was necessary to have the value of substantial estate assets assessed. It was specially noted that the appraisal of the corporate assets in question was complex and required the reliance on an expert. The trial court asserted that considering the factors surrounding the case, the blind negligence that occurred was not a case of a breach of the defendants' fiduciary duties.

Disagreements regarding how the estate of a decedent is administered can result in a dispute with beneficiaries. These situations can become particularly challenging, and an executor may want to have the assistance of a probate attorney throughout the process.

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