Recently, a prospective client asked a question that probate litigators frequently hear: “At what point do you hire an attorney if you’re having issues with a family member named as the executor of a Will under which you’re a beneficiary?”
When you stop and think about it, the question involves much more than the counseling that an estate or probate attorney could give. These issues often involve some family dysfunction and conflict that go well beyond fiduciary obligations.
This prospective client’s story went like this:
Grandma’s Will says that Uncle doesn’t have to file an Inventory. As a result, he is being vague to the beneficiaries about oil / gas royalties, stocks and liquid assets. He claims that Grandma’s checking account goes to him even though the Will says that the property is divided equally. Nothing has been accomplished in three months, and now he gets defensive when I bring it up. When I was the Executor of my Mother’s Will, I worked faster and communicated better. I don’t want to start a fight, but at what point do I hire an attorney to help me?
The easy answer is, “Hire an attorney today.” But in just a few short sentences, this prospective client has unloaded a bunch of issues. First, it is imperative to recognize some baseline fiduciary obligations in Texas. The statutes concerning estate inventories in Texas have changed, but an executor’s obligation to inform and account to their beneficiaries remains as solid as ever.
Many prospective clients in this position will wait to see if this situation resolves itself – if the uncle ever gets more proactive or more forthcoming. Those folks risk spending significant time and energy tracking down property and correcting a bunch of mistakes later down the road. Nobody wants to start a fight unnecessarily (at least most people don’t). You will often avoid a large conflict later on if you have an estate attorney obtain relevant information for you without waiting to let things get worse.