I’m executor and the heirs won’t sign off on a will. What now?


Q. I am the executor of my aunt’s estate, I have paid all taxes and have the stocks in an account. There are three cousins who will not sign off on the distributions I planned. We have a New Jersey estate lawyer who said everyone has to agree. This is holding up the other heirs from getting their share of stock. Can I release the stock to the ones who agree?
— Frustrated

A. Family fights over an estate are unfortunate.

Your frustration comes through in your question, but you have a duty to fulfill.

Under New Jersey law, executors are required to file with the county surrogate a Refunding Bond and Release signed by each beneficiary upon paying a beneficiary his or her share of the estate, said Shirley Whitenack, an estate planning attorney with Schenck, Price, Smith & King in Florham Park.

She said the document serves two purposes.

“First, it requires a beneficiary to pay his or her pro rata share of any unpaid debts owed by the estate if there are no other assets to pay them,” Whitenack said. “Second, it discharges the executor of his duties.”

If a beneficiary refuses to sign this document, the executor must get an order of discharge from the probate court by filing an order to show cause and verified complaint with a formal accounting attached, she said.

The executor can also apply to the court to have the beneficiary’s share paid into the court, she said. The accounting will be audited by the surrogate’s office, which will charge a fee, and the beneficiaries can file `exceptions’ — objections — to the accounting with or without attorneys, she said.

She warns that paying out some of the funds may lead to trouble.

“An executor who distributes assets to some but not all of the beneficiaries may be subject to a claim that he or she breached the executor’s duty of impartiality and may be held liable if some of the beneficiaries were paid too much,” Whitenack said.

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This story was originally published on Sept. 20, 2021. presents certain general financial planning principles and advice, but should never be viewed as a substitute for obtaining advice from a personal professional advisor who understands your unique individual circumstances.