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The executor of an estate is entrusted with fulfilling the terms of a will after the testator passes on, oftentimes a major responsibility. An executor's role can require financial and administrative management to ensure that the wishes of the deceased are enacted, with all assets distributed to rightful heirs in a lawful and timely manner. Yet while most executors carry out their duties in good faith and to the best of their abilities, there's always a small but critical percentage who exploit their position to commit fraud against beneficiaries.
Let's say that after the death of a parent, "Barb" is appointed the executor of their estate, promising to enact his deceased parent's wishes to split $1 million in family property between herself and her brother and sister. But unfortunately for her siblings, Barb is a bad-faith executor who wants to steal the money and assets. Instead of dividing the estate in thirds, Barb acts to conceal the true amount of funds available, shifting money between multiple bank accounts and lying to her two siblings about where she's stashing cash. She releases only a small portion of what her brother and sister truly inherited, even inflating the cost of funeral expenses.
Barb's tangled web of deception doesn't end there, however. The rest of her family becomes suspicious, knowing there were more assets designated evenly between the three children, assets that have seemingly disappeared. Barb goes so far as to lie in probate court, claiming to have no knowledge of where stolen funds and property might be hidden. Following up on family complaints, the police launch an investigation that leads to Barb's arrest on charges of larceny, perjury, and embezzlement. Found guilty in court, she is sentenced to three years in jail, and she also has to pay restitution to her two siblings she defrauded out of the family's million-dollar fortune.
The above case may seem hypothetical, but it's based on real-world events we encounter in the world of estate, probate, and trust law. Too many times innocent people, loved ones and neighbors in our own communities, have been the victims of executor fraud. As attorneys we fight to protect our clients and their interests from such exploitation, preventing it where possible and working to enable recovery of assets. Bad-faith executors should realize that civil litigation might only be the start of the justice process, which can easily transition to criminal prosecution.