When a person creates an estate plan – even if it’s a simple will – they should name an executor (known under Texas law as a “personal representative”) to handle the administration of the estate. This includes everything from paying final bills and filing the last income tax returns to disbursing the inheritances according to the deceased’s wishes. The executor is the one who deals with the probate court and makes sure that everything is settled according to the law.
As a family member of the deceased person, you may or may not agree with their choice of executor. It doesn’t have to be someone in the family. In fact, people sometimes choose a friend or colleague who’s outside the family to try to minimize intrafamily squabbles and accusations of favoritism.
As long as the named executor accepts the position and meets the basic state requirements, a beneficiary doesn’t have grounds to petition the probate court to remove them and appoint someone else. They need to have a valid reason under the law. That typically involves some kind of wrongdoing or negligence during the administration of the estate.
What does Texas law say?
So what is a valid reason for seeking the removal of an executor? Under Texas law, an executor can be removed for one or more of the following reasons (among others):
- There’s evidence that they’ve attempted to or have “misapplied, embezzled, or removed from the state” any property from the estate.
- They’ve failed to comply with an order from the probate court.
- They’re guilty of “gross misconduct or mismanagement in the performance of any duties.”
- They haven’t settled the estate within three years (unless the probate court granted them an extension).
- They become “incapable of properly performing any duties of trust.”
While, as noted, a beneficiary can petition the court to remove an executor, a probate judge can also do so without the petition of an interested party if necessary.
If you believe that the executor of a loved one’s estate is not abiding by their fiduciary duty, either because they’re engaging in some type of fraud or other criminal activity or because they simply aren’t doing the job that’s required of them, it’s wise to seek legal guidance before you petition the court. It’s not a step to be taken lightly – but it may be necessary to preserve your loved one’s estate and carry out their wishes.