An executor has formal legal authority to manage the estate of a decedent and distribute assets to beneficiaries. If you are preparing to administer the property of a deceased family member, know that you do not have unlimited power over the estate.
Executors who mishandle an estate could face legal sanctions and even removal from the position. Here are some key actions that can open an executor to liability for misconduct.
Not following the will
The most basic form of executor misconduct is failing to follow the instructions in the will. If certain assets should go to designated beneficiaries, the executor must comply. Distributing assets contrary to the will makes the executor vulnerable to legal challenges from the beneficiaries.
Not submitting the will to the court
Even though a will names someone as executor, the person has no formal powers until approved by probate court. An executor must properly submit the will and petition the court for appointment. Without court approval, the executor has no legal basis for managing estate assets.
Reckless handling of estate assets
Executors have a duty to preserve the value of estate assets while probate is pending. Any actions that result in a significant loss of value could prompt accusations of financial misconduct. Examples include selling assets far below market value or making risky investments with estate funds. Even if losses are unintentional, extreme mismanagement could still create liability.
Using estate money for personal purchases
Perhaps the most serious form of executor misconduct is using estate funds for personal expenses. Any expenditure must have a clear justification as being necessary for estate administration or asset maintenance. If the executor cannot document how spending benefited the estate, a court may find that the executor has misused estate funds.
According to Texas law, a personal representative who fails to perform a necessary duty or ends up removed for cause could become responsible for removal costs and the attorney fees related to removing the representative and attaining compliance for duties neglected by the executor. These examples of legal consequences show that while executors have significant discretion, they are still accountable to beneficiaries and the probate court.