What can I do if I don’t like how the executor is managing the estate?
My sister is the executor of my Dad's estate. She’s taken total control of everything and won't speak to me. She even arranged for his cremation without telling me. I’m worried she’s going to make bad decisions. What can I do if she does something I don’t like?
An executor’s job is to carry out the deceased’s wishes, not yours. Just because they’re not making the decisions you would have made in their shoes doesn’t necessarily mean they’re doing anything wrong. But they don’t have free reign either. If they act improperly by breaching their legal duties as executor, you may be able to challenge their actions.
The executor's duties
Executors are fiduciaries. This is a legal term and refers to someone in a position of trust toward another person. An executor must act honestly. They have a duty to keep you informed, but they don’t have to consult with you on how you’d like them to handle the estate. An executor also has a duty to:
protect the estate assets
follow the instructions in the will
put the interests of the beneficiaries before their own
keep estate assets separate from their own
keep good records and account to the beneficiaries
Some examples of an executor acting improperly might include:
stealing from the estate, or misusing estate funds
not following the instructions in the will
using estate assets or funds for their own benefit
Options to take action
If you think an executor isn’t being honest or is otherwise acting improperly, there are steps you can take. First, try to resolve the problem directly with them or their lawyer.
If this doesn’t work, you may want to seek legal advice. (There are options for free advice.) A lawyer can tell you what your options are and whether you have good reason to challenge the executor.
They may suggest some of these approaches:
Getting in touch with the executor’s lawyer.
Writing a strongly-worded letter to the executor or their lawyer.
Trying estate mediation.
Starting legal action. This could include petitioning to remove the executor or forcing them to give a full accounting of what they’ve done with the estate money. Starting legal action is usually expensive and time-consuming. It’s usually best to try solving the issue in other ways first.
More on dealing with a problem executor
In this webinar recording, lawyers Amy Mortimore and Zachary Rogers answer common questions about dealing with a problem executor. Also, see more Q&As on dealing with a problem executor.