Estate mismanagement is more common that you might expect, whether accidental or intentional. Florida law requires a personal representative (also known as an “executor” or “administrator”) to carry out a number of duties to properly administer a decedent’s estate. This includes (is not limited to):
- Marshaling the decedent’s assets
- Searching for, identifying, and notifying creditors of administration of the estate
- Identifying all beneficiaries
- Paying taxes
- Objecting to improper claims
- Distributing the assets
The personal representative’s position is that of a fiduciary. As such, he has a legal obligation to carry out his many and varied duties with the utmost care, and to act in the best interests of the beneficiaries.
The personal representative must strictly comply with the law’s requirements in the performance of his duties.
During the time a personal representative administers an estate, he must properly manage the estate’s assets. Improper actions or the failure to act at all is considered estate mismanagement and can subject a personal representative to personal liability.
Although the personal representative remains the person ultimately responsible for the administration of the estate, Florida law requires personal representatives to have an attorney to guide and assist them. The main reason for this is because probate is a complex and complicated area of law and Florida recognizes that it is a difficult job.
So it may not be surprising that not everyone who is appointed as a personal representative is fully capable of properly managing an estate. Beneficiaries should be aware of the duties a personal representative has, and whether or not he/she is properly fulfilling those duties.
While there may be countless “tip-offs” that could indicate a personal representative is or may be mismanaging an estate, here are 3 that we think beneficiaries should keep an eye out for.
3 Possible Signs of Estate Mismanagement
Failing to Communicate
One of the main responsibilities of a personal representative is to communicate with the beneficiaries about the estate and its administration.
The personal representative has a duty to provide the beneficiaries with relevant information regarding the estate throughout the administrative process. This includes informing them of the value of the estate, the status of any investments, how much is being spent and on what, etc. As a beneficiary, you are entitled to know what the value of the estate is and how the assets are being managed.
Communication from a personal representative can be formal or informal but there must be communication, and the personal representative must keep beneficiaries reasonably and regularly informed about the administration of the estate. For example, the personal representative is required to provide beneficiaries with an annual accounting.
If time keeps passing and you are not hearing anything from the personal representative, this could be an indication that something is not right. Check into it and if you have any hesitations or questions at all, immediately consult with an estate and probate lawyer.
Missing deadlines or court appearances
The job of a personal representative is a demanding one. No one will argue with that. It takes up a lot of time and requires significant effort. Part of administering an estate requires making court appearances and meeting strict filing deadlines.
If you find that the personal representative is skipping court appearances or is missing court filing deadlines (without requesting an extension) this can raise concerns about estate mismanagement. Another sign to look for is a personal representative not taking care of the decedent’s property. So, for example, if the personal representative is not maintaining property or is not making necessary repairs, he could be neglecting his/her duties. If you have any concerns or see these signs, talk to an estate and probate lawyer.
Not filing an inventory on time
Closely related to missing filing deadlines is the failure of a personal representative to file an inventory on time.
In Florida, the personal representative has only 60 days after the issuance of letters to file an inventory with the court. Missing this deadline (without requesting an extension from the court) can be a sign that the personal representative is not properly managing the estate.
There are, of course, many other possible indications of estate mismanagement. If you are a beneficiary, you need to stay on top of whether or not the estate is being properly managed.
As always, the best possible thing you can do if you have any concerns, is to consult an experienced estate and probate lawyer right away.
Estate Mismanagement Issues? Contact a Florida Probate and Estate Planning Attorney
At the Law Offices of Samantha J. Fitzgerald, we work hard to ensure that your wishes will be followed, and your loved ones taken care of when you are gone. When you work with the estate planning attorneys at the Law Offices of Samantha J. Fitzgerald, you get more than just an estate plan: you get peace of mind. We expertly guide individuals through the complex probate process, and capably handle all aspects of the creation, administration, and settlement of trusts as well. Contact us here or email us at: [email protected]