When you have been named personal representative of a deceased person’s estate, you have a fiduciary duty to act in the beneficiaries’ best interests. That includes distributing the estate in a timely manner. An unwarranted delay could result in a lawsuit against you for breach of fiduciary duty. If you have delayed distributing an estate without a sufficiently compelling reason to do so, you may have waited too long.
Fiduciary Duties and Distribution of the Estate
A personal representative, executor, or trustee has a fiduciary duty of care, loyalty, and impartiality to act in the best interests of the beneficiaries in managing and distributing an estate. The fiduciary’s responsibilities include:
- Complying with all legal procedures and requirements
- Giving notice to creditors as required by law
- Paying the debts of the estate
- Filing tax returns and paying all taxes when due
- Safeguarding non-cash assets of the estate
- Keeping a clear and concise record of all financial transactions
- Providing information to the beneficiaries as requested
- Timely distributing the estate according to the wishes of the deceased
Managing and distributing an estate can be a lengthy process. The executor has a responsibility to take care of certain matters before the estate can be distributed. That includes going through the legal process, gathering the assets, giving notice to creditors, allowing enough time for them to respond, and paying all debts and taxes.
However, if too much time elapses before the estate is distributed, it may create a hardship for the beneficiaries. Potential income may be lost from investments the beneficiaries would have made if the estate had been distributed sooner. The beneficiaries may have a claim for breach of fiduciary duty if there was reason considered valid for the delay.
Possible Consequences of Delay in Distributing an Estate
One very real consequence of unwarranted delay in distribution of an estate is the possibility of probate litigation. If the beneficiaries believe that the delay caused significant hardship and loss of income, they may file a lawsuit for damages.
In a case before the Indiana Court of Appeals regarding the Estate of Sonja Eiteljorg, the appellate court upheld the trial court’s ruling that a delay in distributing the estate was a breach of fiduciary duty. Damages were awarded to the estate beneficiaries in this case.
South Florida Probate Litigation Attorney
If you are facing the possibility of litigation for delay in distributing an estate, your best course of action is to consult with an experienced probate litigation lawyer as soon as possible. At Stern Zwelling, LLC, probate litigation, estate planning, and probates are what we do. Attorney Ido Stern has handled a range of probate litigation matters in Boca Raton and South Florida with a history of success.
If probate litigation becomes necessary, you want a skilled and experienced attorney representing you. Contact us by email or telephone to request a consultation. We will be happy to discuss your situation and your options under the law.