When the Beneficiaries Disagree with the Personal Representative

Couple fightingWorking through the death of a close friend or family member is an emotionally trying time.  You will need to work through your grief and other emotions while also trying to deal with the logistical issues attendant to a loved one’s death.  Most cases will need to go through a process called probate.  During probate, the personal representative is responsible for gathering the assets of the deceased, playing allowable debts, and distributing assets to the beneficiaries of the estate.  Clearly the personal representative has a lot of responsibility and his or her decision will have serious repercussions for creditors, debtors, and beneficiaries of the estate.  Considering the importance of these decisions, it should not be surprising that beneficiaries sometimes will disagree with the decision of the personal representative.

If the beneficiaries disagree with the decision of the personal representative, they can file a motion with the court to ask the court to reconsider the decision.  For example, if the personal representative approves a claim for a particular debt that the beneficiaries do not feel is valid, they can turn to the court for relief.  The court will consider argument and evidence from both sides before deciding whether the requested relief needs to be granted.

It should also be noted that simply because the beneficiaries disagree with the personal representative and have taken action in court due to disagreement, this does not change the duties or, more importantly, the powers of the personal representative with respect to other issues.  The court will decide that particular issue and no more, unless specifically requested to decide other issues.  Accordingly, back to the prior example about a questionable debt, the court disallowing one particular debt does not mean the personal representative no longer has the authority to approve other debts, unless specifically stated by the court.

If the beneficiaries want to completely remove the personal representative, they will need to specifically request this relief from the court.  Personal representatives owe what is called a “fiduciary duty” to the estate.  This means they need to act with the utmost care and act only in the best interest of the estate. The beneficiaries can file to ask the court to remove the personal representative if they believe the fiduciary duty has been breached.  Note that a simple disagreement or corrected mistake is not likely to rise to the level required to remove a personal representative from his or her position.

We have extensive experience with estates and probate.  Call us today at 651-371-9117 to talk about your case and your goals.

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