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What can you do about an incompetent executor or trustee?

Losing a loved one can be a socially, emotionally and financially difficult time in your life. Not only do you have to adjust to a future without the support of the person you love, but you also have to embrace the new legal reality that comes from their death.

Children and spouses often get used to having access to certain assets that belong to their loved one. When that person dies, it can suddenly become much more difficult to access those assets. Until the probate process is over, you may not be able to utilize certain assets at all.

In no small way, your financial future and stability become dependent on the actions of another person who is the trustee or executor for the estate. When that person doesn't do their job, you have the right to take action.

What are signs that you should challenge how someone handles an estate?

The more assets a person has and the more complicated the instructions are, the harder handling their estate becomes. If there are simply a few accounts that need to be signed over to children and spouses, the process is straightforward. The executor pays off any outstanding creditors as necessary and then transfers the remaining assets to beneficiaries.

This process can take as little as a couple of months, or it can take several years if there are challenges to the estate or issues with its administration. Unfortunately, some people aren't up to the challenges of managing someone else's estate.

Warning signs that the person named in the will isn't up to the task could include a failure to assess the estate in a timely manner, an inability to travel to the location where the estate is or evidence of incompetence, such as estate-related bills that continue to go unpaid for more than a few weeks. In the event that someone is not performing their duties or has not done so in a reliable manner, you may be able to challenge their position without challenging the estate itself.

It doesn't have to be personal when someone can't do the job

It isn't easy to tell someone that they don't seem to be able to uphold the obligations of a position of trust they received. Many people will not take feedback or criticism gracefully in that situation, even if they know they have not done the necessary work for the estate.

Sometimes, discussing the situation with the trustee or executor can be enough to either motivate them to take action or incentivize them to step down. If they will not, you may need to explore taking action. Talking about the situation with experienced probate litigation attorneys is a first step toward handling issues in the estate of a loved one.

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