One of two types of people are vested with probate court authority to oversee the estate of a deceased person. If a person died with a will in place, that individual is called the executor. If a person passed away without a will, that person is identified as the administrator. These court-appointed individuals are vested with fairly significant power when it comes to addressing the affairs of an estate. You may have a number of questions about an executor or an administrator. Among these questions may be can an estate executor or administrator be fired?
How a Person Becomes an Executor or Administrator
Before diving into the specifics of whether (and how) an executor or administrator can be fired from working on an estate, it can be helpful to understand how a person ends up in one or another of these positions in the first place. As mentioned a moment ago, an executor oversees an estate in which the deceased individual created a will before death. An executor goes through what essentially is a two-part process to holding that position.
First, within a will, a person designates (or nominates) a specific person he or she would like to see serve as the executor of his or her estate. A probate court must approve that appointment. A probate court nearly always will approve the person nominated in a will to serve as the executor. Once the probate court approves a person to serve as the executor, the judge issues what legally are called “letters of executorship.” This is the legal jargon for the order that grants a person the power and authority to act as the executor of an estate in probate.
When a person dies without a will, that individual hasn’t designated anyone to oversee his or her estate. As a consequence, the probate court must make this determination. The probate court will appoint an individual to serve as the administrator of an estate without a will.
In appointing an administrator, a court oftentimes looks to a close family member – a spouse, adult child, sibling, or parent. If the court can’t identify an appropriate family member to serve in this capacity, a judge can appoint an experience probate lawyer to serve as the administrator of an estate. When an administrator is selected by the probate court, the judge issues an order typically called letters testamentary (or letters of administration).
Grounds for Seeking the Termination of an Executor or Administrator
The judge presiding over a particular probate case is the individual vested with the authority to actually terminate an executor or administrator. There must exist a valid, even significant, reason underpinning the termination of an executor or administrator. The most commonplace reasons for the termination of a person in one or another of these positions are:
These admittedly are broad categories and there will need to be specific facts supporting the removal of an executor or administrator for one or another of these reasons. Nonfeasance is the legal term used to describe a situation in which an executor or administrator doesn’t do his or her job. Negligence applies to a situation in which an executor or administrator makes mistakes in undertaking his or her duties that have caused or have the potential to cause harm to the affairs of the estate or to the heirs. Misfeasance represents a situation in which an executor or administrator has engaged in some type of misconduct that is harmful to the estate or counter to the fiduciary duty that a person in these positions owes to the estate and its heirs.
There can be some less ominous reasons for the removal of an executor or administrator that don’t rise to the level of nonfeasance, negligence, or misfeasance. A prime example is a situation in which lines of communication deteriorate or breakdown between an executor or administrator and the heirs of the estate. There are instances in which matters associated with an estate in probate can become highly contentious. In some circumstances, the greater part of wisdom suggests that a new executor or administrator may be an advisable course of action. (Oftentimes, when matters decay to this level, an executor or administrator will request the court to be relieved of his or duties.
Who Can Seek Termination of an Executor or Administrator?
Generally speaking, only a person with a bona fide interest in the estate can seek to have an executor or administrator removed. Prime examples of people who are in a legal position to seek the removal of a executor or administrator include:
- Any individual with a property right in the estate
- Any person with a claim against the estate
- Attorney representing the estate
- Attorney representing another interested party
A probate judge can elect to remove an executor or administrator on his or her own volition, even if no one has requested this to happen. In some situations, a third-party with no true legal interest in the estate may approach a court suggesting removal of an executor or administrator. For example, if a person in one of these positions has developed a health issue that renders it impossible to serve, a doctor or similar professional might possess this information when others do not. That individual might be able to approach the court whilst still maintaining doctor-patient privilege.