Contesting the Executor of a Loved One’s Will

Contesting the Executor of a Loved One’s WillCoping with the loss of a loved one is always a difficult, painful process, and one of the hardest parts is having to deal with the divvying up of property and funds in their honor. Especially when one is dealing with a large estate and plenty of possible heirs and beneficiaries, it can be a daunting ordeal for many.

Now, in an effort to make things easier for their families after they pass, people usually have wills drawn up that dictate who gets what and who has power. They typically choose someone they trust to act as the executor of that will, to make sure it is handled properly and as directed when the time comes. Sometimes, though — and for a myriad of reasons — they might make the wrong choice. How does one contest the choice of executor, and is there even a point in doing so?

What are the qualifications and duties of a will executor?

When your loved one chooses the executor of their will, it is because that person fits the criteria necessary along with being someone your loved one trusted. This means that should you choose to contest the decision, you will need to be able to prove the named executor no longer qualifies for the job. Before it gets to that step, however, it is important to understand exactly what an executor is and what qualifications Tennessee requires them to meet.

An executor (or personal representative) protects your property and estate until after all debts and taxes are paid. At that point, they are responsible for transferring what’s left to those entitled to it. This is a big job. It can take weeks, months, or even years of day-to-day management until it is all over and done with, and that is why not just anyone can do it. The actual requirements differ from state to state, but in Tennessee, an executor cannot be someone who:

  • Has been convicted of a crime
  • Has served time for a crime
  • Is a judge, unless they are a family member who will stay separate from all judiciary matters

While one can name an executor who lives out of state, it is typically not recommended given how much hands-on work is required. In fact, if someone is entirely set on choosing an out-of-state executor, Tennessee also requires them to choose an in-state co-executor. For practical reasons, an ideal executor is someone local, trustworthy, and detail-oriented.

When can I contest the executor of a will?

There can be a myriad of reasons why you feel it is necessary to contest a will, and the same is true for contesting the executor. As with most aspects of probate law, however, special rights and considerations are given to the family members and beneficiaries of the deceased. Basically, anyone with a legal, personal connection to the deceased is able to contest the executor — within reason.

Again, a beneficiary who comes forward to contest the executor has to prove they have a valid reason to do so. It usually boils down to mismanagement of the estate, but in the eyes of the law there can be plenty of ways to violate the executor duties:

  • If they are convicted of a felony
  • Failure to account for estate assets
  • Noncompliance of court orders
  • Dishonesty
  • Conflict of interest
  • Improper and/or personal use of estate funds
  • Gross mismanagement

In essence, one must prove that the executor failed in their duties due to their own personal choices, and not as the result of good-faith efforts. If you suspect the executor is being dishonest or otherwise misusing the property your loved one put them in charge of, you can bring it up to the court. It is important to note that the court will ultimately be in charge of deciding who replaces them — it does not automatically fall to you. If no alternate executor is named in the will, the court will go by state law, which dictates the living spouse, children, and then distant family members would be eligible, in that order only. So if you believe you should have been named executor but do not fall into those categories, you should know that is not going to change.

In the end, remember, this is about respecting the last wishes of your loved one. In order for that to be taken seriously, there needs to be complicated and strict laws in place — even if they sometimes have unintended consequences. It may be frustrating and disheartening to have to work with the pace of the law and under their tight rules, but if you truly believe the chosen executor is incompetent and/or neglectful, it is worth the stress to protect your loved one’s final decisions.

Working with a skilled probate attorney is a great way to learn the ins and outs of the law to hold the necessary parties accountable. You want someone who can be entirely on your side without worrying about a conflict of interest to give you the legal counsel you both need and deserve. Contesting a will on any level can be a long, drawn-out process that you should not attempt alone. The Maryville probate attorneys at Shepherd & Long, P.C. have years of experience with cases just like yours. We offer free consultations and other legal assistance. Give us a call today at 865-982-8060 or use our contact form to learn what we can do for you. We serve clients in Blount County and throughout East Tennessee.