Do you think youre entitled to money or might be entitled to money from an estate or trust? Do you believe that someone is unfairly claiming money or property that is rightfully yours? Has The Executor of Adminsitration of The Estate not done their job? If so, and you are a prospective plaintiff or defendant, then you may need an attorney to protect your rights.
Executor Duties and Responsibilities [Duty of Administrator if No Will}
An executors job comes with many legal obligations. Under certain circumstances, an executor can even be held personally liable for unpaid estate taxes. Lets review the major duties involved, which weve set out below.
Step 1: Probate. The executor must probate the will. Probate is a process by which a will is admitted. This means that the will is given legal effect by the court. The courts decision that the will was validly executed under state law gives the executor the power to perform his or her duties under the provisions of the will.
Step 2: Manage the Estate. The executor takes legal title to the assets in the probate estate. The probate court will sometimes require a public accounting of the estate assets. The assets of the estate must be found and may have to be collected. As part of the asset management function, the executor may have to liquidate or run a business or manage a securities portfolio. To sell marketable securities or real estate, the executor will have to obtain stock power, tax waivers, file affidavits, and so on.
Step 3: Take Care of Tax Matters. The executor is legally responsible for filing necessary income and estate-tax returns (federal and state) and for paying all death taxes (i.e., estate and inheritance). The executor can, in some cases be held personally liable for unpaid taxes of the estate. Tax returns that will need to be filed can include the estates income tax return (both federal and state), the federal estate-tax return, the state death tax return (estate and/or inheritance), and the deceaseds final income tax return (federal and state). Taxes usually must be paid before other debts. In many instances, federal estate-tax returns are not needed as the size of the estate will be under the amount for which a federal estate-tax return is required.
An employer identification number (EIN) should be obtained for the estate; this number must be included on all returns and other tax documents having to do with the estate. The executor should also file a written notice with the IRS that he/she is serving as the fiduciary of the estate. This gives the executor the authority to deal with the IRS on the estates behalf.
Often it is necessary to hire an appraiser to value certain assets of the estate, such as a business, pension, or real estate, since estate taxes are based on the fair market value of the assets. After the filing of the returns and payment of taxes, the Internal Revenue Service will generally send some type of estate closing letter accepting the return. Occasionally, the return will be audited.
Step 4: Pay the Debts. The claims of the estates creditors must be paid. Sometimes a claim must be litigated to determine if it is valid. Any estate administration expenses, such as attorneys, accountants and appraisers fees, must also be paid.
Step 5: Obtain Court Approval or Release and Refunding Bonds, then Distribute the Assets. After all debts and expenses have been paid, the distribute the assets with extra attention and meticulous bookkeeping by the executor. Frequently, beneficiaries can receive partial distributions of their inheritance without having to wait for the closing of the estate.
In New Jersey, the court and surrogate do not supervise how an executor or administrator handles the estate. Unfortunately, the Executor occasionally fails to timely carry out their duties. They may fail to file tax returns, fail to keep records, misappropriate funds or ignore instructions under the Will. If you are not satisfied with the handling of the estate, you can have an attorney file a Complaint in the Superior Court. If there is no Will, someone can petition the surrogate to be appointed as administrator of the estate.
COMPLAINT FOR ACCOUNTING
A Complaint for Accounting is filed with the Probate Part to request on accounting, removal of the current executor and selection of a new person to administer and wrap up the estate.
A signed certification of one or more beneficiaries is needed. In addition, an Order to Show Cause is prepared by your attorney. The Order to Show Cause is to be signed by the Judge directing the executor, through their attorney, to file a written answer to the complaint, as well as appear before the court at a specific date and time.
As with a litigated court matter, trials can become expensive. Competent elder law/probate attorney may charge an hourly rate of $300-$450 per hour, with a retainer of $4000 needed. Attorneys will require the full retainer to be paid in full up front. We charge a consult fee of $200 to discuss the case.
The plaintiff can demand the following:
(1) That the named executor be ordered to provide an accounting of the estate to plaintiff.
(2) Defendant, be ordered to provide an accounting for all assets of d1 dated five years prior to death.
(3) Payment of plaintiff's attorney's fees and costs of suit for the within action.
(4) Declaring a constructive trust of the assets of the decedent for the benefit of the plaintiff and the estate.
(5) That the executor be removed as the executor/administrator of the estate and that someone else be named as administrator of the estate.
(6) That the executor be barred from spending any estate funds, be barred from paying any bills, be barred from taking a commission, be barred from writing checks, be barred from acting on behalf of the estate, except as specifically authorized by Superior Court Order or written consent by the plaintiff.
Executors are entitled to receive a commission to compensate them for work performed. Under NJSA 3B:18-1 et seq., Executors, administrators and other fiduciaries are entitled to receive a commission on both the principal of the estate, and the income earned by assets.
However, if you have evidence that the executor has breached their fiduciary duties or violated a law, your Superior Court accounting complaint can request that the commissions be reduced or eliminated.
SALE OF REAL ESTATE AND OTHER PROPERTY
Occasionally, a family member is living in a home owned by the decedent. To keep family harmony, often this family member is permitted to remain in the home temporarily. However, it may later become clear that the resident has no desire on moving, and the executor has neither an intention to make them move nor to sell the house. The remedy a beneficiary has can be to have your attorney include in the Superior Court complaint a count to
1) remove the executor
2) remove the tenant and make them pay rent to the estate for the time they used the real property since death without paying rent
3) compel the appraisal of the home and, thereafter, the sale of the property
4) make the executor reimburse the estate for the neglect or waste of assets.
FILING SUIT IN AN ESTATE CONTEST
RULE 4:84. COMPLAINTS IN CASES IN WHICH SURROGATES COURT NOT ABLE TO ACT
4:84-1. In General
In any case in which, under R. 4:82, the Surrogates Court may not act, any person in interest may file a complaint and apply for an order directed to all other interested parties to show cause why the relief sought should not be granted. Service shall be as provided by R. 4:67-3.
4:84-2. Probate in the Superior Court
If a will is sought to be proved in the Superior Court, proceedings for discovery shall be available pursuant to R. 4:10, R. 4:12 to 4:19 inclusive, R. 4:21 and R. 4:23. On the taking of a deposition, a photocopy of the will shall be marked for identification by the person before whom the deposition is taken. If the will is admitted to probate, the judgment of the Superior Court shall direct that the will be filed with and recorded by the Surrogates Court. Letters of appointment shall then be issued by the Surrogates Court.
4:84-3. Contested Administration
Where administration of an estate has been contested, the judgment of the Superior Court granting administration shall direct issuance and recording of letters of administration by the Surrogates Court.
4:85-1. Complaint; Time for Filing
If a will has been probated by the Surrogates Court or letters testamentary or of administration, guardianship or trusteeship have been issued, any person aggrieved by that action may, upon the filing of a complaint setting forth the basis for the relief sought, obtain an order requiring the personal representative, guardian or trustee to show cause why the probate should not be set aside or modified or the grant of letters of appointment vacated, provided, however, the complaint is filed within four months after probate or of the grant of letters of appointment, as the case may be, or if the aggrieved person resided outside this State at the time of the grant of probate or grant of letters, within six months thereafter. If relief, however, is sought based upon R. 4:50-1(d), (e) or (f) or R. 4:50-3 (fraud upon the court) the complaint shall be filed within a reasonable time under the circumstances. The complaint and order to show cause shall be served as provided by R. 4:67-3. Other persons in interest may, on their own motion, apply to intervene in the action.