Executors are tasked with the heavy burden of distributing the decedent’s estate, making sure all the relevant taxes are paid and all the legal formalities to conclude the estate are completed. While their authority is very broad and they have a great deal of discretion in navigating the probate courts, their power is not absolute. They have limits placed on their activities by virtue of their fiduciary duty to the estate.
An executor in California, as in the rest of the country, is a fiduciary to the estate that they are in charge of. As discussed previously, this means the executor must act in the estate’s best interests at all times, not in the executor’s best interests. While the line between these two is often clear, often the executor is also a beneficiary and this can muddy the waters. For example, if a bequest must be changed, it has to be done in the estate’s best interests, not in the executors.
The probate court does hold executors accountable for misconduct on their part. One of the most common examples of misconduct is failing to file the will with the probate court. Even if the executor is named in the will, he or she needs formal permission from the court before beginning their duties. All expenditures and appraisals need to be reported to the court as well. A serious case of misconduct would take place if the executor removes money for their personal expenses or mismanagement of the estate resulting in a loss of value.
While negligence by a trustee, executor or conservator could get the individual fired for their misconduct, it is important for the beneficiary to present evidence supporting their claims. In misconduct of this type, beneficiaries would most likely need to act quickly before the estate becomes depleted. An experienced attorney might provide valuable guidance on how to proceed.