When we work with our clients to draft wills (to avoid leaving things intestate) and set up their estate planning, we encourage them to be extremely selective when choosing an Executor. Executors hold tremendous power over your estate after you pass and are often the final decision maker when it comes to honoring your wishes on the distribution of your assets.
Unfortunately, despite even the most thoughtful choice at the time, circumstances may arise where after an estate owner’s passing, the Executor of a will needs to be removed and replaced with another individual. This can be a result of irresponsibility, incompetency, or a number of other circumstances. But the first thing you need to determine is whether your particular concern constitutes grounds for legally removing an Executor.
What are the grounds for removing an Executor from a will?
Having legitimate legal grounds to remove an Executor is crucial. In Virginia, grounds for removing an Executor from a will include:
Removal Clauses – Many estate owners put removal clauses in their wills outlining a procedure to follow in the event an Executor needs to be removed. In cases of multiple beneficiaries, the will can include language that allows for the removal of an Executor if there is a majority or unanimous vote to do so.
Petition the Courts – This option is less straightforward than a removal clause, but in the absence of one it can be the best option. In Virginia, other interested parties in the estate may hire an attorney and petition the courts for an Executor’s removal.
While parties are always able to petition the courts, cases are not always successful – especially without strong representation and solid reasoning for filing the petition. The interested parties must be able to prove that the Executor is failing in his or her responsibilities. That means simply disagreeing with their decisions will not automatically result in an Executor’s removal. That considered, circumstances that may result in a court granting the removal of an Executor in Virginia are:
• Conflict of Interest – The Executor is not able to neutrally execute the will.
• Misconduct – The interested parties can prove the Executor has committed fraud, theft, or another estate-related violation.
• Hostile Conduct – The interested parties can show the Executor is hostile towards estate beneficiaries to the point it interferes with the lawful execution of the will.
Courts are less likely to approve petitions to remove Executors for contests like unpopular decisions or personal conflicts. Not agreeing with an Executor’s decision – or simply not getting along – does not usually result in grounds for an Executor to be removed. If you are an interested party in an estate and you feel an Executor may not be fulfilling their responsibilities, your first move is to consult a legal professional well-versed in estate law. We can help clients in multiple areas of Virginia, including Fairfax and Annandale.
During a consult, they can help you determine whether your concerns constitute legal grounds to remove the Executor.