The Executor Refuses to Speak to Me. What Do I Do?
Aug. 23, 2022
If someone dies with or without a will – called dying intestate – the State of Ohio requires that that person’s estate go through a court-supervised process known as probate. If the decedent exercised a last will and testament, they will no doubt have named a personal representative in the document. That personal represented will then be named executor of the estate when matters go before the supervising probate court.
If there is no will, the court will name an executor, usually from among family members, whose duties will involve the administration and settling of the estate under court supervision.
Probate in Ohio generally takes about nine months or more. Since creditors and those with claims against the decedent’s estate have six months to file a claim, the process is contingent upon those six months having passed before any final distributions can be made.
What happens, though, if you’re the beneficiary of the estate – say a family member of the deceased – and you run into difficulties with the executor, who won’t return your phone calls or even talk to you? What can you do?
You have no power to fire the executor, who is functioning at the discretion of the probate court. In short, you need to prove to the court that the executor has a conflict of interest or is somehow incompetent or self-serving. If the court agrees, a replacement executor may be appointed.
If you’re the loved one of the decedent whose estate is now going through the probate process and you have problems with the executor in or around Dayton, Ohio, contact the probate administration team at StachlerHarmon Attorneys at Law. In a time of loss, grief, and stress, the last thing you want to do is deal with an uncooperative executor. We can help by assessing your situation and guiding you toward the proper legal channels and options.
StachlerHarmon Attorneys at Law proudly serves clients in Dayton, Warren, Greene County, Clark County, Miamisburg, Butler County, and Preble County, Ohio.
The Duties of the Executor
The executor of an estate has responsibilities that range from arranging the deceased’s funeral, presenting the last will and testament to the probate court, paying taxes and creditors, inventorying and collecting estate assets, and finally distributing assets to beneficiaries according to the dictates of the will. The executor must also keep comprehensive records and submit periodic reports to the probate court.
One of the first acts of the executor, once appointed, is to notify beneficiaries and creditors that probate proceedings are underway. This is usually done by written notification. The next step is to manage the estate and open a banking account in the estate’s name, in which cash assets must be placed. If other assets are later sold to pay taxes or creditors, proceeds from the asset sales must be placed in that account until paid out.
Note here that the executor, depending on the size of the estate, may be dealing with considerable cash and assets, but even if the estate is modest, the executor has a fiduciary duty to exercise care and engage in fair dealing with all.
Once taxes and debt obligations have been met (remember the six-month window to file debt claims), the executor can proceed to distribute assets according to the decedent’s wishes. Here again, the executor has a fiduciary and legal responsibility to honor the dictates of the will and its author.
What If the Executor Refuses to
Speak to Me?
Provisions exist for removing and replacing an executor by petitioning the probate court, which may then hold a hearing to determine if grounds exist for a change in executors.
Probate courts generally will not accept what they term “trivial reasons” for removing an executor.
Among these trivial reasons is the behavior of the executor toward the beneficiaries. Rude and argumentative behavior is often excluded from the list of valid reasons for a change of beneficiaries. Even withholding information from beneficiaries is not considered a serious enough impropriety. Therefore, if the executor won’t speak with you, you likely will not get a hearing for removal if you cite that and only that as the reason.
Valid reasons do exist for a change in executors. Breach of fiduciary duty probably tops the list. In this category fall gross mismanagement of estate assets, misconduct, incompetence, or a conflict of interest. If the executor is also a beneficiary, this does not present an immediate conflict unless the executor disregards the will in favor of their own gain. Finally, a person with a felony conviction cannot serve as an executor in Ohio.
If you file a petition based on one of the reasons listed above, the court will order a hearing at which the executor will be present. If you prevail in your assertions about the conduct of the executor, the court will excuse the executor from handling the estate. If the will names an alternate executor, the court will call upon that person to take over. If not, another hearing will be held to appoint an executor.
Speak With a Trusted Attorney for Advice
If you feel the executor in your loved one’s estate is not being forthright with beneficiaries and is not properly tending to their responsibilities, a petition for a change in executors may well be justified. Bring the details of what’s going on between you and the executor to our estate administration attorney, and we will assess your options going forward.
In all your probate and estate administration matters, rely on us at StachlerHarmon Attorneys at Law. In a time of loss and grief, you don’t need the added worry and stress of monitoring the executor’s every move. Contact us immediately, and let our team provide the counsel and assistance you need. We proudly serve clients in Dayton, Warren, Greene County, Clark County, Miamisburg, Butler County, and Preble County, Ohio.