Can an Executor Take Money from the Estate?

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When you and your loved ones are waiting for an executor to finish the Florida probate process, it can feel like the executor is standing between you and your inherited assets. But sometimes it isn’t just court delays causing problems. Unfortunately, some executors and personal representatives take money from the estates they administer – beyond their reasonable fees – leaving the family wondering where their loved one’s money went.

Can an Executor Take Money from the Estate?

An executor, also called a personal representative, is the person appointed by the Florida probate court to execute a deceased person’s estate, pay all the bills, and distribute all the assets. Depending on the size and complexity of the estate, an executor’s work can take a lot of time and effort. Under Florida law, executors are entitled to be paid a percentage of the deceased’s estate, and to be compensated for any “extraordinary services” including real estate assessments, tax preparation, and management fees related to the deceased’s business or real estate.

Executors are entitled to receive compensation before satisfying creditor debts. That means their percentage is calculated and paid while the estate is pending. When the estate’s assets are limited, this can also interfere with the distributions described in the Will. An executor can waive their right to be compensated. Most often, this happens when the personal representative is also a beneficiary under the Will or a close family member. But they do have the right to take money from the estate, for applicable estate expenses, reimbursements of certain approved expenses, and their compensation fee.

Can You Take Money Out of an Estate Before Probate?

Unfortunately, however, some executors take advantage of their access to the deceased’s estate before probate begins, and in the first days of probating the estate. One of the personal representative’s first duties is to prepare an Estate Inventory listing all the assets in the estate and establishing their value. Dishonest executors may steal money from the estate before filing the Estate Inventory, concealing those assets from the intended beneficiaries and from the court. In addition to money, some personal items of value can be taken such as:

  • Family photos or heirlooms
  • Artwork, jewelry, or collectibles
  • Cash stored in the home
  • Furniture or small appliances

These items are easier to steal than real estate or vehicles because there is no title paperwork, and no paper trail. That can make it harder for beneficiaries and others to prove that assets have been removed before the inventory is filed. It is a good idea to take pictures of the deceased’s home and properties as soon as possible after their death, which can document when things go missing later on.

Executors aren’t the only ones with access to some of these assets, though. Other family members may try to lay claim to family heirlooms or mementos before the probate case has even been filed. However, this removes the assets from the inventory and deprives the other beneficiaries of their value. Instead, they should document their preference to claim specific items with the executor, but leave the objects in the personal representative’s control until after the probate process is complete.

What Can You Do if a Personal Representative Steals Money?

Heirs and beneficiaries have a number of remedies available if a personal representative or executor steals money from their loved one’s estate. These include (from least serious to most severe):

Depending on what was taken and when, you may need to hire a forensic accountant to review the estate’s records or an investigator to track down missing heirlooms and personal property.

If you believe the executor or personal representative is stealing money from your loved one’s estate, you need lawyers familiar with both probate and civil court to help you be compensated for your losses. At Harrison Estate Law, P.A., our experienced probate litigation team understands how to employ probate petitions and civil lawsuits to remove the executor, reclaim your loved one’s assets, and get you the relief you need. Contact us here or call 352-559-9828 to get help today.

Categories: Probate