Los Angeles County Estate Attorney

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Los Angeles County Estate Attorneys Promoting Fairness for all Estate Beneficiaries

When a will is submitted to the probate court, the court will appoint a person to carry out the provisions of the will. This estate administrator (also called an executor) has fiduciary obligations to meet the wishes of the person who made the will (the "testator").

The administrator is tasked with managing investments, liquidating assets, distributing inheritances, and many other financial and personal matters. An administrator who does not perform these tasks appropriately—whether as a result of simple negligence or intentional misdeeds—may fail to carry out the testator’s wishes and deprive family members and friends of their rightful inheritances. If you believe that an estate administrator is not fulfilling any obligations, a Los Angeles County estate attorney can help you explore your options for legal recourse.

What Are an Administrator’s Rights and Responsibilities?

An estate administrator holds fiduciary duties toward the beneficiaries of the estate. These consist of the duty of care (which requires the administrator to act as a reasonably prudent administrator would in similar circumstances) and the duty of loyalty (which prohibits the administrator from engaging in self-dealings with the estate, and not to make decisions that profit the administrator at the expense of the estate). The duty of care is designed to prohibit most acts of negligence. The duty of loyalty, on the other hand, addresses intentional misdeeds.

These abstract legal concepts apply to a wide variety of estate tasks. The administrator must sometimes deal with logistical considerations, such as disposing of the testator’s remains. The administrator must also secure property and ensure its proper maintenance to prevent depreciation during the probate process. The administrator must file and pay life insurance claims.

Later, the administrator will perform a more comprehensive survey of the estate’s assets, and search for all assets that the estate should rightfully include—including those that were forgotten, concealed, or changed over the years. After the probate court discovers, documents, and accepts these assets, the administrator must act reasonably, by determining the most profitable means of liquidating the estate’s assets. Oftentimes, these tasks involve resolving disputes between the beneficiaries of a will. Such disputes are particularly common among stepfamilies. When an administrator cannot reasonably resolve a dispute, the parties can submit it to the probate court for resolution.

How an Estate Administrator’s Negligence or Intentional Misdeeds Can Harm Beneficiaries

Both negligence and intentional misdeeds can result in harm to beneficiaries. If, for example, an administrator negligently fails to maintain a home during the probate process, its value may diminish, and the beneficiaries could inherit less from the sale of the home. In the same example, an unscrupulous administrator could also agree to sell the home to a friend for less than its fair market value. The beneficiaries would, again, inherit less than they would have had the administrator met the duty of loyalty.

This example demonstrates how an administrator’s misdeeds can harm beneficiaries and prevent carrying out the testator’s wishes. Prospective beneficiaries must hold the administrator accountable to prevent further harm, whether through negligent or intentional misdeeds.

So what are family members, friends, and other potential beneficiaries to do when an estate administrator’s misdeeds impair their legal rights? People with legal interests in the estate also have the legal right to challenge an administrator’s misdeeds in the probate court. They may petition the court to remove the administrator and appoint another person to administer the estate. The new administrator can also take legal action on behalf of the estate against the former administrator to recover financial losses caused by gross negligence or intentional misdeeds.

Discuss these and other options with an experienced probate litigator to determine what tools will most effectively protect your legal rights as a beneficiary. A probate litigator can help you determine whether anyone violated your rights and how to prevent such violations in the future.

Trust Beneficiaries Have Legal Rights, Too

Estate administrators are not the only ones with legal obligations. Trustees also have fiduciary duties of care and loyalty to the beneficiaries of the trusts they manage. Violations of these duties can cause harm to the beneficiaries, in much the same way that beneficiaries of a will can suffer harm from the misdeeds of an estate administrator.

Often, it is even more important to monitor a trustee’s actions than those of an estate administrator, because an estate administrator is appointed for the administration of specific tasks in a single estate. A trustee, on the other hand, must oversee trust assets into the indefinite future. Frequently, a trustee must make investments and ensure profitable returns for years to come, so misdeeds can go undiscovered for years. Much financial harm can come to trust beneficiaries who are not aware of a trustee’s actions in protecting the trust’s assets.

Trust beneficiaries must know and understand the investments a trustee makes, and take advantage of the probate laws that require transparency in accounting for trust assets. Trust beneficiaries can take action to remove a trustee who commits negligent or intentional misdeeds, and face liability to the trust beneficiaries for the financial losses they sustained as a result of such misdeeds.

Protect Your Legal Rights During the Estate Administration Process

Executors and trustees can deprive family members and friends of their legal rights during the process of administering estates or trusts. Protect your rights by consulting a Los Angeles County estate attorney as soon as possible. An experienced estate attorney can help you determine whether you have a valid legal challenge to a will, trust, estate, or any other procedure in the probate court. Call (213) 357-5200 today to schedule your free consultation with one of the Los Angeles County estate attorneys at Hackard Law.