An executor of an estate in Tennessee has many responsibilities. These responsibilities include paying debts, following probate procedure, and ensuring the directions of the will are carried out. The Executor must also ensure that the decedent's property is properly distributed to the beneficiaries. During the administration of the estate, conflict can sometimes arise between executors and beneficiaries. Most often, these conflicts center upon the executor's refusal to distribute property to a beneficiary and whether the executor has a right to do so.
In this blog, we explain the role of the executor's relationship to the estate and the beneficiaries so you have a better understanding of when an executor must withhold money and when the executor cannot do so.
When can an executor of a Tennessee estate withhold money from beneficiaries?
The executor has a fiduciary duty to the estate as well as to the estate beneficiaries. But compliance with the probate process requires that the executor:
- account for all the decedent's assets;
- pay off all the decedent's debts;
- pay any estate taxes, if applicable; and
- defend the estate against lawsuits.
Depending on the above, the executor can withhold property from beneficiaries. Usually, property is withheld until all assets and debts are accounted for and paid. Once all debts are satisfied, the executor must then distribute the decedent's assets and property to the estate's beneficiaries in accordance with the will.
In the meantime, while the executor conducts his business as the personal representative of the estate, beneficiaries do have a right to information. Beneficiaries can request information on things like:
- what assets are held by the estate;
- what assets have been sold to settle debts;
- how assets are being spent; and
- overall and ongoing administration of the estate.
The executor cannot withhold this information from the beneficiaries. If requested, the executor must provide all relevant information to the beneficiaries. For example, if a beneficiary requests the executor provide a bank accounts statements since the decedent had at death, the executor has an obligation to provide those statements.
The executor must also provide beneficiaries their share of the estate in a timely fashion. What constitutes "timely" is often dependent on the circumstances and complexity of the estate. For example, if the estate is being sued, the probate process will be longer. The probate process must usually be completed before the executor can distribute benefits to the beneficiaries.
When Must an Executor of a Tennessee Estate Provide Assets to the Beneficiaries?
An executor cannot use the money of a decedent's estate to benefit himself. Similarly, an executor cannot use such estate assets to benefit one beneficiary over another beneficiary. If the executor does anything that would constitute a breach of the fiduciary duty, then beneficiaries may petition the probate court to remove the executor.
Sometimes a will outlines grounds for the executor's dismissal. If the will is silent, the probate court will make the decision. Reasonable grounds for dismissal include issues like theft or proven inability to administer the estate.
The Key Takeaway
As a beneficiary, it is understandable you are anxious for your share of the estate. But probate can take some time to complete. However, keep in mind that you have a right to information from the executor. So, if you have questions or concerns, be sure to uphold your right and request the information you want.
If you need assistance doing so or to better understand the estate planning and probate processes, contact an experienced estate planning and probate attorney in Clarksville. An experienced attorney will be able to provide you with the guidance you need to ensure a smooth and timely probate process.