If you feel that nothing is happening in an estate, then it is possible that the executor is neglecting their duties, or worse, stealing from the estate. But it is also possible that what you perceive as a delay is in fact just a normal part of the process.
The most important thing to do when you feel that nothing is happening in an estate is to communicate with the executor and consult with your estate attorney. If the executor’s story adds up, then your worries may be unfounded. But if the executor’s behavior and excuses throw up red flags, then it may be time to act.
Here are some examples of the red flags that you should be concerned with enough to call an estate lawyer:
Red Flag #1 – The Executor is Not Communicating With You
This is the biggest red flag. If the executor is not answering your phone calls or emails, they may be up to something. It is possible that they stole money from the estate and are trying to avoid dealing with the situation.
Red Flag #2 – The Estate is Taking Longer Than Seven Months
In New York, creditors have seven months from the date the executor is appointed to make claims to an estate. Once seven months pass, claims are no longer possible. Most executors prefer not to distribute estate funds before the seven months are up, because if the estate has no money, then the executor can be personally liable to the creditors. Executors don’t want to be personally liable, so they wait seven months before making a distribution. But if the executor is taking longer than seven months, they need to have an explanation.
Red Flag #3 – The “We’re Waiting for the Tax Letter” Excuse
Most estates are considerably lower than $4,187,500, and therefore do not require the approval of New York or federal taxing authorities in order to be closed. So if the Executor is telling you they’re waiting for a tax letter, it’s worth looking into what they are doing.
Red Flag #4 – The “Estate Has no Money” Excuse
If the executor is telling you that the estate has no money, but you know that it should, what may really be happening is that the estate does have money and the executor is lying about it, or the estate had money and the executor stole it. An executor should be able to provide an accounting of the funds that went into the estate and came out of the estate, which could shed at least some light as to what happened to the estate’s property.
Red Flag #5 – The Executor is Using Estate Property
If the executor is using the estate property, for example living in the house that belongs to the estate, renting out a house that belongs to the estate and using the rent for their personal needs, they may not have an incentive to distribute the property. They may need to be hurried along by the court.
Red Flag #6 – The Executor Failed to File an Inventory
An executor has to provide file an inventory of the estate’s assets within nine months of being appointed. The beneficiaries do not have to ask for an inventory, it is something that the executor has to file with the court. It should contain a summary of the estate’s assets. If it’s not filed, they should be asked to file it. Not filing an inventory can be grounds for removal of an executor.
Red Flag #7 – The Executor is Unable to Provide an Account of the Estate’s Property and Expenses
When asked, an executor should be able to provide an “informal account” of the estate’s property and the estate’s expenses. If the executor refuses to do so or the account is incomplete, it may be time to petition the court to order the executor to provide a formal accounting of the estate, which would go through the court.
On the flip side, some explanations are reasonable:
Possible Reasonable Explanation #1 – “We are Looking for Assets”
Some estates have assets that are difficult to locate and an executor needs time to find the assets. However, if it takes more than seven months, then it would be a red flag.
Possible Reasonable Explanation #2 – “We are Waiting for the Tax Letter”
In the value of an estate is approaching a $4,187,500, then estate tax is a real concern and it makes sense that the estate is waiting for a letter or a determination of the amount of estate tax.
Possible Reasonable Explanation #3 – The Estate is Tied Up in Litigation
If one of the beneficiaries is litigating the estate, whether a will contest or a contesting accounting proceeding, a kingship proceeding or something else, then the case could take a considerably longer time than an uncontested estate. Resolving the litigation, either through a trial or settlement, could bring down estate processing time considerably.
Possible Reasonable Explanation #4 – Real Estate Takes Time to Sell
It is true that real estate takes time to sell. However, the executor should list the real estate as soon as they’re appointed as the executor, and should list it for a price that’s reasonable. If the executor or their family are using the property, then it becomes extra important to make sure that the property is listed is being shown.
If you are seeing red flags in a New York estate and you think that nothing is happening when you should be getting your inheritance, call the Law Offices of Albert Goodwin at (212) 233-1233 for a consultation.