Options to Compel an Executor to Distribute the Estate

Sometimes executors refuse to share information with estate beneficiaries and let them know what is going on with the status of an estate administration. Sometimes years pass without a beneficiary ever knowing what debts have been paid or what assets are left to be distributed. These beneficiaries have several options in dealing with such an executor.

First, at any time after 15 months from the date the independent administration was created, a beneficiary may demand an accounting from an executor. If the executor fails to deliver the accounting within 60 days, the beneficiary can seek compliance through court intervention. Moreover, the beneficiary can make subsequent demands for an accounting thereafter on an annual basis. There are also other approaches available to obtain information before 15 months have elapsed.

Second, at any time after 24 months from the date the independent administration was established, the beneficiary can go to court and seek an accounting and distribution of the estate. To avoid having to distribute the estate, the executor will have to show the court a continued necessity for administration.

Thirdly, a beneficiary may seek to remove an executor in connection with the accounting demand or the demand for distribution. Removal should be sought with caution, however, as the probate code allows an executor to be reimbursed his or her reasonable attorney’s fees incurred in defending against the removal, as long as the defense is in good faith and with just cause.

So who has to pay the legal expenses incurred in compelling the executor to do his or her job? In many cases, the Court can assess attorney’s fees against the executor individually and not the estate. If the executor is also a beneficiary, these provisions have the effect of “offsetting” the executor’s share of the estate; thus, resulting in a net increase to the other beneficiaries.