The passing of a loved one can cause dormant longstanding family conflicts to surface. One context in which this can occur is when, prior to a death, distrust already exists between the family member appointed as a personal representative or executor of the deceased and one or more of the beneficiaries of the estate. Particularly when the personal representative or executor is also a beneficiary of the estate, the other beneficiaries are often concerned about whether the personal representative is improperly taking estate assets for him or herself. To ensure a personal representative or executor with control over an estate’s assets is handling the estate’s assets properly, a beneficiary may demand an accounting. If the response to a demand from the executor or personal representative is not satisfactory and the amount of money at issue is substantial, in order to protect your rights as a beneficiary it may be advisable to pursue relief from a court.
In New Jersey, any individual with an interest in an estate is entitled to receive an accounting from the person responsible for managing and distributing the estate. This person, who may be designated as a personal representative, executor, executrix, administrator, administratrix or trustee, is known as a fiduciary. The fiduciary has a duty to manage and distribute an estate according to the terms of the will, trust or intestacy law, whichever governs the estate. The fiduciary is also obligated to maintain and preserve accurate records to show what has been done with the assets of the estate. As a result, any irregularities will be decided against the fiduciary unless the fiduciary can clear them up.
If a beneficiary wishes to force the fiduciary to provide an accounting, the beneficiary must file with the court in the appropriate county a verified complaint, which is a sworn statement, along with an order to show cause. R. 4:83-1 and 4:87-1(a). In the case of a deceased person’s estate, this will be the county in which his or her primary residence, or domicile, is located. There is no statute of limitations governing an action to compel an accounting. At the same time, except for good cause, a fiduciary will not be forced to file an accounting within a year of their appointment as fiduciary. N.J.S.A. 3B:17-2. By way of this proceeding, a beneficiary can force a fiduciary to render an accounting with the court.
If the fiduciary fails to produce the accounting in violation of a court order, the fiduciary may be removed for cause. N.J.S.A. 3B:14-21(a). Even if the fiduciary is removed, he or she is still obligated to account, and may be fined or held liable for contempt of court. N.J.S.A. 3B:14-6.
The Law Office of Bart J. Klein counsels clients throughout New Jersey regarding inheritance, estate and probate disputes, including breaches of fiduciary duty and disputes regarding estate and trust distributions. We appear in courts throughout New Jersey and welcome you to contact us for further information.
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