Trusts and Estates Fraud

One area of law that I have been actively pursuing involves claims against executors and administrators of estates and trustees of trusts. When someone dies with a will the will must be probated. This will require the probate court to appoint an executor (female=executrix) to administer the estate. If a person dies without a will (intestate) then the court will appoint an administrator.

The executor handles the affairs of the estate which would include 1) locating the decedent’s assets; 2) preparing an inventory of assets; 3) paying debts of the estate; 4) filing tax returns and paying taxes; and 5) distributing the assets of the estate according to the terms of the will.

The executor has to take an oath. An executor owes the estate a fiduciary duty. This means that the executor must exercise the utmost care in handling the affairs of the estate. The most common breach an executor makes is one of self dealing. In other words an executor may hire a friend or business partner to help manage the affairs of the estate. Or an executor may get a payment or “referral” fee for sending business of the estate to a company. These types of arrangements are strictly prohibited.

Another situation I am seeing more regularly involves trustees who manage large trusts. Most trusts are handled with reputable banks as the trustee. But if you are the grantor or beneficiary of a trust you should have someone you trust look over the financial aspects of the trust documents. A formal accounting may not be necessary. But you should, at a minimum, get an nderstanding of all of the fees and expenses associated with the trust and all of the disbursements that have been made. Ge to know the trust officer and the staff that is handling the estate and don’t be afraid to ask questions.

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