When a loved one passes away, the last thing you want to do is mire the estate in court without good reason. In fact, many people may overlook inappropriate or questionable behavior by an executor or trustee in good faith, assuming that person is simply doing the best he or she can for the situation.
Sometimes, however, serious mistakes, oversights or attempts to profit from the estate could necessitate bringing a challenge. In many respects, the estate plan, trust or last will is the final legacy of your loved one. He or she went through the effort to create the plan in the belief that those wishes would be accurately and carefully executed. Incompetence or greed should not diminish the legacy of someone you love.
What is breach of fiduciary duty?
At its most basic, fiduciary duty is an obligation of trust. The person serving as trustee or executor has a fiduciary duty to the beneficiaries of the will, as well as the deceased, to comply with last wishes and perform the duties of that role with a focus on the benefit of the trust or the heirs.
When someone in a position of trust makes mistakes or acts in self-interest, it can impact everyone who should benefit from the estate. When it becomes clear that the person cannot live up to the responsibilities of the role, other family members must ask the courts to intervene to protect the legacy of the deceased.
Sometimes, the breach or failure is unintentional
There’s no doubt that handling an estate, especially one with significant assets, is a difficult and overwhelming process for many. Even someone who is normally competent and hard-working, while moving through the grieving process, could struggle with all the details and demands.
It is also possible for grief, distance or other issues to result in long-term delays. If the executor lives in another city or state or has another family member in need of care, that could delay the handling of critical matters, from paying local taxes to ensuring a property receives maintenance until it sells. Any of those delays could cost the trust or estate substantial money, which could impact the heirs and beneficiaries.
Some breaches are intentional for personal gain
Sadly, it is all too common for those entrusted with the administration of an estate to attempt unscrupulous things for their own benefit. They could hide or steal assets to sell after the estate closes. Other times, they could intentionally sell items for far below market value to someone who will split the difference with them later.
If there are any signs of intentional theft or similar questionable behaviors from an executor or trustee, you may need to challenge the administration of the estate to prevent the loss of valuable assets.