Removing an Executor of an Estate
I’ve been getting a lot of phone calls in recent months from heirs in Massachusetts who are dissatisfied with how the decedent’s estate is being administered. These complaints can be sorted into two distinct categories: (a) complaints that the estate is not being administered expeditiously; and (b) complaints that the executor is engaged in misconduct or self-dealing. Regardless of the category into which the particular complaint falls, these people are mostly unified in one sentiment: they want the executor removed.
The probate court has the authority to remove an executor; it can do it on its own or as a result of a petition filed by an heir under the will. Even as recently as a few years ago, such a proceeding seemed rather hopeless because of the sheer time it took–in most instances, years–for a petition for removal to be decided.
Fortunately, times have changed, and the Probate Court has now adopted “time standards” much like what exists in our Superior Court. Nonetheless, it still takes months for a removal proceeding to be concluded.
On what basis can a executor be removed? Blatant self-dealing is clearly chief among the grounds for removal. The payment to the executor and/or his counsel of excessive and unreasonable fees is a bit less moving as a reason for removal but can still serve as the basis for it. Where removal becomes a difficult task is in instances where the executor is slow to administer the estate. It is unfortunate but nonethless reality that the probate system has accepted lengthy periods of administration as the norm. I have one case where the period of administration is about to hit the 10-year mark since the decedent’s death; needless to say, the heirs are fuming (fortunately, none have died in the interim period). It is not inconceivable that unreasonably delay in administering the estate could be grounds for removal of an executor. However, the delay would have to be shown to be quite clear and not explainable or justifiable.