We haven’t received an inheritance. What does the executor have to do?

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Q. My father passed in 2019. My youngest sister is executor. There is another sister and also a son he had with his girlfriend. We agreed to a four-way even split for the four children. Is the executor sister obligated to give everyone a copy of the will? There are two commercial properties that are rented out. Is she required to give us information on the rent and costs for the properties? It’s been three years and the only thing we have seen is the bill from the lawyer who is her representative for $69,000. And she’s taking a 10% fee for being executor. To date nothing has been distributed to anyone but her lawyer and her. The rest of us are told there’s nothing in the account, but they won’t show the paperwork.
— Heir

A. There’s a lot going on here.

A lot depends on how this estate was set up.

First, a spouse, heirs, next of kin and beneficiaries named under the will are entitled to notice of the probate of the will from the executor and, upon request, receive a copy of the will from the executor following probate, said Catherine Romania, an estate planning attorney with Witman Stadtmauer in Florham Park.

Moreover, she said, once the will is probated, it is a public document, so anyone can request a copy from the surrogate’s office where it is filed upon payment of a fee.

Romania said an executor is required to gather the decedent’s assets, pay the creditors and distribute the estate of the decedent in accordance with the terms of the decedent’s will both “expeditiously and efficiently.”

“Beneficiaries may agree among themselves to alter their interest under the will. And although distributions are not required in the first year of administration, specific bequests will earn interest if not paid one year after the decedent’s death,” she said. “The decedent’s remaining assets may be distributed by selling the assets and distributing the proceeds or dividing ownership of the assets among the beneficiaries or distributing partial interests in the assets among the beneficiaries.”

If a beneficiary believes the executor is not fulfilling his or her duties or is breaching his or her duties, the beneficiary may bring an action in court for removal of the executor or to compel an executor to act or to account and possibly surcharge — which is akin to charging a fine — the executor, Romania said.

But, she said, courts are reluctant to remove an executor absent proof of malfeasance as opposed to a mistake. Therefore, you will want to be sure to be able to show you have advised the executor of your concerns and demands before filing a court action, she said.

Your notice to the executor will show that the executor had time to cure any mistakes he or she made if there were mistakes, she said.

“For example, send a certified letter to the executor and estate attorney requesting the documents you wish to review, as well as an informal accounting,” she said. “You may specifically question the calculation of commissions, which pursuant to statute should not exceed 6% on income and should be between 2 and 5% of principal absent other factors.”

You should set a reasonable deadline by which you expect a response, Romania said.

“If you do not receive a satisfactory response, you must then decide whether you wish to bring a court action,” she said.

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This story was originally published on Nov. 11, 2022.

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