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Common examples of a breach of fiduciary duty during probate

On Behalf of | Sep 19, 2023 | Probate & Estate Administration |

The executor or personal representative tasked with administration of an estate must manage a lot of responsibilities. And, ultimately, they could very easily make a mistake that could derail the Texas probate process and drastically reduce how much the beneficiaries of the estate receive from a loved one’s legacy.

Someone in a position to control another person’s resources might abuse that authority, which is why probate law imposes a very high standard of responsibility on those administering an estate. The executor of an estate or the trustee administering a trust has a fiduciary duty to the beneficiaries who should receive assets. A fiduciary duty makes one party responsible for putting another party’s best interests ahead of their own. Breaches of fiduciary duty are common during estate administration, and they often fall into one of the categories below.

Failure to act in a timely, competent manner

Someone with fiduciary duty to an estate will need to properly manage the probate process and provide information to the beneficiaries about the estate. Their obligations will typically include submitting paperwork to the probate courts and properly securing the assets of the deceased. Those who fail to act could reduce the value of the estate and create other complications that open them up to claims that they have breached their duty. There is also a duty of care which requires that the representative do their best to protect the assets within the estate and maximize their value.

Embezzlement or self-dealing

Another common way that an executor or trustee might breach their fiduciary duty is through seeking to directly financially benefit from their position. They could misappropriate resources from the estate or hire a company that they own or work for to render services to the estate.

Allowing bias to affect their efforts

The representative of an estate has a duty to remain impartial. Their personal feelings should not impact their performance of their tasks. The instructions provided by the testator and also the unique probate code in Texas determine who should receive property from the estate.

Unfortunately, those tasked with estate administration often have pre-existing relationships with the beneficiaries and may let their personal biases influence how they perform their jobs. They may fail to communicate or put their own interests ahead of the best interests of estate beneficiaries. Being able to recognize warning signs of a breach of fiduciary duty can help beneficiaries and family members fight back when someone administering an estate does not act in their best interests.