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  • Writer's pictureEvan Miller

Navigating Non-Compliance: What Happens When a Personal Representative Ignores a Will in Florida




When someone passes away in Florida, their last will and testament becomes a guiding document for distributing their assets. A personal representative, often named in the will, is tasked with managing and settling the estate according to its terms. But what happens when this individual does not follow the directions laid out in the will? This blog post explores the consequences and legal remedies available when a personal representative goes rogue in Florida.


The Role of a Personal Representative

First, it's important to understand the role of a personal representative (also known as an executor in other states). This person has a fiduciary duty to the beneficiaries of the will. This means they must act in the best interests of the beneficiaries and the estate, managing assets responsibly, paying debts and taxes, and distributing assets according to the will's instructions.


Consequences of Non-Compliance

  1. Legal Action by Beneficiaries: If beneficiaries suspect that the personal representative is not adhering to the will, they can take legal action. They might petition the court to review the personal representative's actions and, if necessary, request their removal.

  2. Removal by the Court: The court can remove a personal representative who is not fulfilling their duties or following the will. Grounds for removal include embezzlement, failure to obey court orders, incapacity, and mismanagement of estate assets.

  3. Personal Liability: A personal representative who mismanages the estate or misappropriates assets can be held personally liable. They might have to reimburse the estate or beneficiaries for any losses resulting from their actions.

  4. Criminal Charges: In extreme cases, if a personal representative steals or embezzles from the estate, they could face criminal charges.


What Beneficiaries Can Do

  1. Monitor the Process: Beneficiaries should stay informed about the estate's administration. They have the right to receive accounting and inventory from the personal representative and should review these documents carefully.

  2. Seek Legal Advice: If something seems amiss, beneficiaries should consult with an attorney experienced in probate and estate law. An attorney can help understand rights and options and represent beneficiaries in court if necessary.

  3. Petition for Removal: If there's evidence of wrongdoing or incompetence, beneficiaries can petition the court to remove the personal representative. They'll need to provide evidence supporting their claims.

  4. Demand a Bond: In some cases, beneficiaries might ask the court to require the personal representative to post a bond, which is a type of insurance that protects the estate against mismanagement.


Preventative Measures

  1. Choose Wisely: When creating a will, it's crucial to choose a personal representative who is trustworthy and capable. Consider their financial acumen, organizational skills, and ability to handle stress and conflict.

  2. Provide Clear Instructions: The more detailed and clear the will, the less room there is for misinterpretation or intentional deviation.

  3. Include Alternate Representatives: Naming an alternate can prevent delays and complications if the primary representative cannot or will not serve.


Conclusion

The role of a personal representative carries significant responsibility and power. While most carry out their duties faithfully, there are instances where they do not follow the will's directions, whether due to misunderstanding, personal gain, or incompetence. In Florida, the law provides mechanisms to address these situations and protect the interests of beneficiaries. By understanding their rights and the legal recourse available, beneficiaries can take action to ensure the estate is settled as the deceased intended, preserving their legacy and providing for loved ones as they wished.

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