Can a beneficiary sue an executor of a estate? Yes. If a beneficiary suspects that they are getting short-changed on their rightful share of the estate, they can sue the executor.
We have clients who have been grossly mistreated and lied to by the executor, who is usually a relative and a person they are supposed to estate. We also have clients with the opposite problem – they are executors who are being unfairly accused by the beneficiaries.
Here are the typical situations where a beneficiary would sue an executor:
Various Disagreements Where Beneficiary Can Sue an Executor
Disagreements sometimes arise in estates. Some executors have a feeling of absolute power and act unreasonably towards the beneficiaries of estates. On the flip sides, some beneficiaries mount unreasonable demands on an executor. Some estate disagreements can be resolved without court intervention. This includes disagreements over sell vs. keep, valuation, who gets what, and items with intangible value.
Accusations of Stealing from the Estate
Executors don’t always steal from estates, but it happens often enough, and when it does, a try to reverse sue the executor to try to reverse the damage to the estate. Executors have access to the funds, and the temptation is too much to resist for some people. We’ve seen stealing by administrators on many occasions. A beneficiary bring an accounting proceeding against the executor, to get a formal report on how the estate is being handled and try to get property back into the estate if it is missing. In the most egregious cases, such as where self-dealing and stealing from the estate can be shown, a beneficiary can sue the executor for fiduciary removal. We can represent either side of the case – the beneficiary who is alleging stealing and the executor who is saying that everything done in the estate was proper.
Beneficiary Was Left Out of the Will or is Receiving a Smaller Share
When a potential beneficiary is cut out of the will or is receiving a smaller share than they would have gotten without the will, we can investigate whether the decedent was incapacitated, coerced or defrauded. We may also look into accusations of forgery or improper execution. We can even find that a later will is discovered. We strive to get the evidence and argue the legal theory to get the best possible settlement or verdict for our clients in estate contests. If the beneficiary who can sue the executor finds evidence of those things, then he takes the case to trial, to try to prove to the judge or the jury that the estate is invalid and should be set aside. We can also defend a estate that a beneficiary is attempting to contest – we can represent either side of the estate contest, whether the proponent of the estate or the objectant to the estate.
Unclear Language in a Will
Unclear instructions sometimes occur when wills are not carefully drafted. Whether the ambiguities work out to your advantage or disadvantage, a beneficiary who sues the executor will make every effort to have the will interpreted in their favor.
When a relationship to the deceased is in question, a kinship proceeding arises and the beneficiary will need to prove their kinship and possibly exclude the kinship of others, including the executor. In kinship proceedings, we may litigate over situations involving the need to look back multiple generations or unravel vague circumstances.
A beneficiary can sue the executor in scenarios such as these:
- Relatives of the decedent are trying to overturn the estate
- Beneficiaries are claiming that the executor has done something wrong
- A person with an interest in the estate is trying to cancel a gift the decedent gave to the executor
- An heir is trying to cancel a beneficiary designation
- A beneficiary is challenging the executor’s qualifications
- A spouse of the decedent is presenting inflated spousal elective share claims
- Beneficiary or business partner is claiming a share of the business
Executors can be unjustly accused of taking funds or property of the estate and are accused of overspending on estate expenses. In such situations, an executor may want to work with the beneficiary who is suing them to remedy the situation and put any misunderstandings behind them.
Executor Qualifications to Sue Over
Beneficiaries of estates sometimes have a personal problem with the executor. Estate litigation lawyers often provide a simple solution to this potential problem by posting a bond, which is like insurance on the executor’s potential misconduct. A bond sometimes works to put the beneficiaries at ease. If a bond cannot be posted or if the beneficiaries want the executor out no matter what, it is up to the beneficiaries to prove why the executor is not qualified. A estate litigation lawyer will do his absolute best to show that the beneficiaries’ claim to have the executor disqualified are without basis.
The Executor’s Share in a Business
Executors are often in business together with the decedent, having worked in the same company sometimes for decades, has significantly contributed to the company, having a share in the company or receiving compensation from the business. Non-executors who are not involved in the business tend to challenge the executor’s share, ignoring the years of hard work that the executor put into the business. A estate litigation attorney will work hard to show the court that the executor is entitled to the share of the business and to the income and control of the business.
Albert Goodwin is an experienced New York estate litigation lawyer who has successfully represented clients all over New York City, including New York County (Manhattan), Kings County (Brooklyn), Bronx County, Queens County, Richmond County (Staten Island), Nassau County in Long Island, and Westchester County (the White Plains court).
As a estate litigation lawyer, I take pride in my record of success. Whether you are a beneficiary and you wish to sue the executor because you feel that you are not getting a fair share of the estate or you are an executor and you feel that you are being wrongly sued by the beneficiaries, you can let me let me handle the negotiations and proceedings, for a peace of mind that comes with knowing that your case is being handled by an experienced New York City estate litigation lawyer. You can give me a call at (212) 233-1233 or (718) 509-9774 and we can talk about your situation.