A common problem in many estates is the inability of the executor to quickly settle an estate or make distributions to beneficiaries. Delays in settling an estate can have many causes, including inattention by an executor, failure to take action when needed, and mismanagement. In some cases, delays are a sign of more serious issues, such as insider trading or an intent to deprive beneficiaries of their inheritance.
If you are the beneficiary of an estate, you have the right to compel the executor to settle an estate and pay distributions to you.
New Jersey law requires an executor to take steps to settle an estate. NJSA 3B:10-28 provides that an executor “shall proceed promptly with the settlement and distribution of the estate of a deceased and do so without judgment, order or direction of a court…”.
Similarly, NJSA 3B:10-23 states that an executor “is under an obligation to settle and distribute the deceased’s estate in accordance with the terms of [the will] and applicable law, and as expeditiously and efficiently as is consistent with the best interests of the estate.…”
An executor must assume these responsibilities subject to a fiduciary duty to the estate. This includes an indelible obligation to collect and preserve the estate. As an estate trustee, an executor has a duty to act on behalf of the estate, not for the executor’s personal interests. In managing estate assets, the executor must adhere to the principle that an executor acts primarily in the interests of the estate and its beneficiaries.
An estate beneficiary has the legal right to compel an executor to meet these standards. Beneficiary rights include requesting the removal of an executor, judicial oversight of the administration of the estate, and penalties. Often, without the action of the beneficiaries, the executor will continue to do little or nothing to administer an estate. It is important that steps be taken to enforce these rights as quickly as possible. The longer the delays, the more waste and damage is likely to affect an estate. The first step is to know your legal rights and the options that best suit your situation.
COPYRIGHT © 2022, STARK & STARKNational Law Review, Volume X, Number 115