Fiduciary duty in probate administration

On Behalf of | Nov 4, 2021 | Fiduciary |

Losing a loved one is never easy. The emotional toll can be significant, and merely trying to figure out how to handle his or her estate can be enormously stressful, especially if you’ve been named the estate’s executor or you have concerns about how another individual is handling the estate.

The probate process, after all, can be difficult on multiple levels. The logistics of it can be confusing, and the emotional toll taken can be wearing. But it’s important that you know how to competently navigate the probate process so that you can protect your interests as well as the interests of your loved one’s estate. That’s why it’s important to know about the fiduciary duty and when it may be in jeopardy.

Signs that the fiduciary duty may have been breached

Trustees and estate administrators are tasked with putting the interests of the estate and named beneficiaries first. This prioritization of interests is at the heart of the fiduciary duty, which requires that the fiduciary act in the interests of identified heirs, beneficiaries, and the estate itself.

That may sound simple enough, but the truth of the matter is that this fiduciary duty is often breached. Such a breach can lead to lost income for the estate, and heirs and beneficiaries can see their share of estate assets quickly dwindle. If you’re an estate administrator, then accusations of breach of the fiduciary duty can lead to contentious and costly litigation, not to mention damage to your relationship with your relatives if they are heirs and beneficiaries.

With that in mind, here are some red flags that you should be on the lookout for if you suspect that the fiduciary duty may have been breached in your case:

  • Estate assets have been commingled with the fiduciary’s personal assets, thereby making it difficult to disentangle the two
  • Estate assets are missing without an explanation
  • Favoritism is shown to certain beneficiaries or creditors
  • The estate’s accounting is poor
  • The estate’s administrator is non-communicative
  • The estate is quickly losing value without justification
  • You catch the estate administrator in lies regarding decisions made pertaining to trust assets
  • The estate’s administrator won’t give you straight answers to clear questions

If you see any of these red flags, then you need to take a deep dive into the estate’s financial records to learn more. Pull bank and investment statements, and ask to see the estate’s accounting records. Ask pointed questions and make sure that your taking note of what was said and when. After all, legal action may be warranted if a true breach of the fiduciary duty has occurred.

If, on the other hand, you’re an administrator, then you need to make sure that you’re being diligent in keeping financial records. Also, be prepared to justify every decision that you make regarding estate assets. Write those motivating factors down if you have to. Just ensure that you make a strong record that protects why you did what you did in case it becomes an issue later on.

Protect your rights throughout the probate process

We know that dealing with the legalities of the probate process can be trying. But you don’t have to face the process alone. In fact, you may be able to put your mind at ease by working with a skilled legal professional who can competently represent your interests in these matters. That’s why it might be beneficial for you to educate yourself as much as possible on this area of the law and seek out assistance when needed.