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    What if the Personal Representative Is Mishandling the Estate?

    Disputes happen during probate when the person entrusted with the decedent’s estate — the personal representative — is suspected of mishandling the estate.

    If you’re one of the beneficiaries, you may think that the personal representative is unfit for the role or acting in their best interests.

    Or worse, you may have discovered that they deliberately withheld information or lied about transactions.

    In any of these cases, it is best to seek assistance from an experienced probate attorney to help you settle matters professionally.

    In this article, we’ll talk about the duties of a personal representative, the red flags to watch out for, and what you can do when you find yourself in this situation.


    What Is the Role of a Personal Representative?

    There are responsibilities unique to a personal representative that depends on whether a will exists:

    Scenario 1: If the deceased left a will

    The Personal Representative named on the will, called an executor, must:

    • Follow and honor the terms of the will.
      The deceased likely appointed the executor because they believed that the person would carry out the terms of the will with integrity.
    • Follow the probate laws in Georgia.
      The Personal Representative should familiarize themselves with the Georgia Probate Law and follow them as they carry out their duties.

    Scenario 2: If the deceased died intestate (without a will)

    The Personal Representative, known as an administrator, must follow the intestate laws of Georgia.

    If there are estate assets that the deceased owned, probate may be necessary.

    Anyone who attempts to distribute estate assets without following the correct probate process may be held personally liable.

    In both scenarios, the personal representative’s duty will also include:

    • Accounting for the estate
      They’re responsible for identifying all assets, debts, and expenses to ensure proper estate administration.
    • Ensuring that they satisfy creditors in the order
      Before distributing estate assets, the personal representative must take steps to pay taxes and satisfy creditors using this creditor priority list as a guide.
    • Distributing the remaining assetsWhatever remains from the estate assets after paying creditors will be distributed to heirs and beneficiaries.
    • Close the estate
      After heirs and beneficiaries receive their inheritance, the personal representative may file a discharge paperwork requesting to close the estate.
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    Is the personal representative required to provide an accounting of the estate?

    Georgia law generally requires a personal representative to file an inventory and annual returns, but if the will exempts them from doing so, and if the court validates the will, the court may not require the inventory or annual returns.

    If this is the case, you may still petition the probate court to request the executor or administrator to file a formal accounting.


    Red Flags That Could Mean the Personal Representative Is Mismanaging Estate Assets

    Emotions run high while grieving and can lead a person to misjudge the situation. Be objective when assessing a Personal Representative’s actions.

    Here are some signs that suggest they could be mishandling the estate:

    • Lack of communication with heirs and beneficiariesThey are constantly avoiding contact with beneficiaries and other interested parties. We encourage personal representatives to update beneficiaries even with an informal report to keep transparency.
    • Denying information about the accounting of the estateThe personal representative fails to provide an accounting or repeatedly ignores requests for transparency.
    • Refusal to provide backup documentation, such as bank accountsThey brush off requests to present proper documentation about the deceased person’s assets.
    • Openly lying about transactions when you ask themWithholding information can hint at possible fraudulent activity or improper action.
    • Transferring assets into their name or the name of another close family memberThey put their own interests ahead of the decedent’s beneficiaries (such as claiming estate assets as personal property).

    There are more red flags we can add to this list, but these are the most common ones.

    Can a personal representative be removed for mishandling the estate?

    The short answer is yes. A petition can be filed with the Probate Court if there is strong enough evidence to support that the personal representative misappropriated estate assets.

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    Potential Options for Dealing With Estate Mismanagement

    What happens when a personal representative breaches their fiduciary duty? Here are steps you can take:

    • Try to open up the lines of communication with the personal representative.Often, people assume the worst when the issue could be a simple misunderstanding. If the personal representative is a family member, they may be grieving too and struggling to cope as they sort out estate affairs. It is often a good idea to reach out peacefully first, ask questions, and attempt to understand what is happening.
    • Demand letter to the personal representativeIf the previous approach doesn’t work, you can send them a letter asking them to give a full accounting of the estate, including all assets, creditors, and expenses.
    • Filing in court for an accounting of the estate or possible removal of the personal representativeIf the Personal Representative keeps refusing your attempts to communicate, one option that can be considered is to file against them in Probate Court or petition to have them removed.We recommend that you work with a probate attorney to know your best course of action based on your situation.

    When is it time to opt for a more aggressive solution?

    By “aggressive solution,” we mean filing a petition against the personal representative in the Probate Court.

    Try to settle matters calmly with the executor or administrator first and only consider this step as a final resort.

    probate attorney consultationHow does potential estate mishandling affect the whole probate process?

    The typical probate timeline in Georgia lasts 12-18 months, depending on the estate’s asset size and complexity. But with conflicts around mishandling the estate, it could take significantly longer.


    Your Next Step

    When you have doubts that the personal representative could be mismanaging the estate, having an experienced probate attorney in your corner can help you navigate your options to get the best possible results. You can contact our office at (770) 796-4582 to schedule a consultation.

    About the author

    Erik J. Broel
    Founder & ceo

    Erik founded the firm in 2009. He sees it as his personal mission to demystify the process of handling an estate or trust, and to help people by making the complex estate process simple and accessible. He believes there is always a better way to do things, and loves finding new and innovative ways to deliver better, more effective service that solves the client’s key problem or issue, and improves the client’s life.

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