Most people who are appointed as executors of estates are trustworthy and do the job to the best of their ability. Unfortunately, there are a few who view this position as an opportunity to enrich their own lives by taking assets that belong to the deceased's beneficiaries. Here's what you should do if you know the executor of your loved one's estate is stealing from it.
File an Injunction
An injunction is a court order that legally compels a person or company to either take a certain action or stop doing something. They're frequently used in cases where one party wants to prevent the other party from changing the status quo prior to obtaining an official decision from the court on a specific matter. Filing an injunction against the executor, for instance, can stop the person from doing anything with the estate until the issue of the theft is resolved.
If you feel the executor poses an immediate danger to the estate, you can file an emergency injunction, which is usually reviewed by a judge straight away and granted if the circumstances warrant the protection. You will have to return to court at a later date to litigate the merits of making the injunction permanent.
Close Access Points
Failure to obey an injunction can result in contempt of court charges and possibly a jail sentence. However, this may not be enough to prevent the person from continuing with his or her thefts, especially if the individual plans on skipping town afterwards. The next thing you should do is shut down access to assets. For example, you can obtain a court order that temporarily prevents anyone from taking money from a bank account without the court's permission. Work with your attorney to identify vulnerable assets and find ways to temporarily close off access points until the situation is resolved.
Revoke the Executor's Authority
It's usually very challenging to get an executor removed from duty, but it can be done. You'll need to file a petition with the court requesting the person's removal. There will typically be a trial where you'll need to prove the person stole from the estate. If the court takes your side, the person will be stripped of his or her authority.
It may be helpful to your case to request an estate audit before the trial gets underway. During this process, the executor will be called to account for all of the actions the individual took while administering the estate as well as provide evidence to back up his or her claims. The person will also be required to produce an inventory of assets. All of this can be immeasurably useful in proving your case because the evidence of theft may be readily apparent.
For more ideas on dealing with a dishonest executor or assistance with litigating your case, contact an estate planning attorney for help.