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The Moneyist: ‘I’m simply stunned’: The executor of my mother’s will said I received enough money — and gave $16,000 of my inheritance to a cancer charity

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Dear Quentin,

I was mentioned in the will of my mother and her long-time partner. They both passed away recently. I received the funds from my mother’s sale of her home, but the executor refuses to provide me with the funds from her long-term partner’s share, worth about $16,000.

The executor said that I have received enough funds and told me she sent my mother’s partner’s funds to a cancer center. I’m sure that a lot of people are jilted out of inheritance by shady executors. I’m simply stunned.

What can I do? I don’t have enough money to hire a lawyer. 

Thank you in advance for your advice.

Still in Disbelief

Dear Still,

It’s not the executor’s job to don a pair of green tights and play the role of Robinhood. They can save those antics for the local amateur-dramatic society. In the real world, they must abide by the law. You can look into free legal aid in your state, and report the executor to the probate court. They should be removed as executor, and could face felony charges.

Even if the money did go to a cancer charity — and I have serious doubts about that — the executor broke the law by giving this money away. It seems more likely that they stole it, but the end result is the same: When someone agrees to be an executor, they agree to act in the best interests of the deceased and the beneficiaries. 

Self-will can be a terrible thing. The executor may have felt they could do with $16,000 for a new car, or to fix the roof on their house, or — as they claimed — a cancer charity would be a more suitable recipient than your good self. The executor’s opinion about you, your parents, the money, and the gap between rich and poor are all irrelevant. 

In many states, the court can order an accounting of the executor’s actions if an interested party such as a beneficiary — that’s you — asks for one, and/or if the executor has been dragging their feet for a certain period of time, which is another tactic sometimes employed by executors who may have a vested interest in the estate.

“‘In many states, the court can order an accounting of the executor’s actions if an interested party such as a beneficiary asks for one.’”

Fair warning. There is a statute of limitations on executor fraud, which varies by state. In California, it’s three years. In Texas, it’s four years. The executor is banking on you doing nothing, and the money will be far more difficult to retrieve once it’s been spent. Pick up the phone today. You can do a lot with $16,000. 

“An executor has a fiduciary obligation to follow the Will. Simple as that,” says estates lawyer Allison Busch. “The executor rarely has any discretion to determine how assets are distributed, other than with household furniture, etc., occasionally. A will is a contract, and it typically spells out the terms of the contract and how the executor is required to follow those terms.”

Review the will and make sure that there was no leeway given to the executor on how to distribute the money. “That being said, there exists the possibility that his mother and her partner did in fact give the executor discretion as to the distribution of the proceeds from the sale of the house,” said Busch, who is a partner at Hartmann Doherty, Rosa, Berman & Bulbulia

If you delay now, you will regret it later, especially if you hear about the executor taking a round-the-world trip on your dime. Your mother and her partner would not have wanted that. You may not be used to standing up for yourself and/or dealing with a stressful legal situation. But treat this as an opportunity to do just that. Speak up now for every time you wished you had.

Check out the Moneyist private Facebook group, where we look for answers to life’s thorniest money issues. Readers write in to me with all sorts of dilemmas. Post your questions, tell me what you want to know more about, or weigh in on the latest Moneyist columns.

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