Limitations of an Executor: What They Can’t Do

When a person passes away, their estate goes through the probate process so that their debts can be paid and assets distributed to heirs. The executor appointed by the court to handle probate has fiduciary duties to the beneficiaries.

While executors have authority over the estate, there are limitations on their powers. Understanding what an executor can and cannot do is important for both executors and beneficiaries navigating the probate process in Minnesota.

Who Can Serve as Executor in Minnesota?

In Minnesota, the person named as executor in the will typically serves in that role during probate. If there is no will, the court appoints an executor, usually a spouse or other close relative. The executor petitions the probate court for formal appointment and receives Letters Testamentary granting legal authority.

Serving as executor is a big responsibility. The job involves tasks like:

  • Notifying beneficiaries
  • Securing assets
  • Paying debts
  • Filing tax returns
  • Managing real estate or businesses
  • Distributing inheritances

The complexity of the estate and potential family conflicts influence how difficult the executor’s job will be. Many executors retain estate planning attorneys to assist with the probate process.

The Executor’s Fiduciary Duty in Minnesota

The executor owes a fiduciary duty to the beneficiaries of the estate. This means the executor must always act in the best interests of the heirs, not for personal gain. All actions taken should be for the benefit of the estate.

As a fiduciary, some things an executor cannot do include:

  • Using estate funds for personal expenses – The executor cannot use money from the estate accounts for their own purposes.
  • Stealing estate assets – If the executor takes items from the estate for themselves, they breach their fiduciary duty.
  • Ignoring heirs – An executor cannot refuse to communicate with beneficiaries or arbitrarily decide who gets assets.
  • Self-dealing – The executor cannot sell estate assets to themselves or family members for lower than market value.
  • Ignoring the will – An executor must follow the terms of the will and has no authority to change provisions.

What an Executor Cannot Do

Minnesota law places several important restrictions on an executor’s authority over the estate during probate. While executors have substantial control to manage the estate, they cannot exceed their legal powers.

Cannot Act Before the Testator’s Death

One clear limit is that the executor has no power to administer the estate until after the testator (the person who made the will) has passed away. The will cannot be executed until the testator’s death triggers the probate process.

For example, the executor cannot start selling the deceased person’s home or other assets before death, even if the property is mentioned in the will. The executor also cannot begin distributing inheritances to beneficiaries before the testator dies and the court appoints the executor. Any actions taken prematurely would be invalid.

Cannot Sign Documents Like a Will for the Deceased

Another limitation is that the executor cannot fraudulently sign legal documents on behalf of the deceased person. For instance, if the testator verbally agreed to a will but passed away before signing it, the executor cannot forge the testator’s signature to make the will valid. Doing this would be unethical and illegal.

Similarly, the executor cannot modify documents after the testator’s death to redirect assets or change beneficiaries in a way that conflicts with the testator’s true intent. Any unauthorized changes made by the executor to benefit themselves over other heirs can be challenged in court.

Cannot Profit from Transactions Involving Estate Assets

The executor is prohibited from engaging in self-dealing for personal profit beyond the fee they earn for administering the estate. This means the executor cannot purchase estate property for themselves at below market value or earn commissions from the purchase or sale of estate assets without the probate court’s approval.

Any transactions involving estate property must be conducted at arm’s length, with proceeds going to the estate itself rather than the executor. Otherwise, the executor likely violates their fiduciary duty.

Cannot Alter the Terms of the Will

Beyond having no power to fraudulently sign a will, the executor also cannot change or ignore provisions in a valid will. For example, the executor cannot decide to reduce one beneficiary’s gift and increase another’s if the will does not authorize this.

The executor must carry out the will’s instructions as written. They have no authority to add or remove beneficiaries based on personal opinions. Any attempts to divert assets away from intended recipients named in the will can spur heirs to seek the executor’s removal.

Cannot Stop Legal Proceedings by Beneficiaries

When heirs exercise their rights to bring legal action over the will or estate, the executor cannot unlawfully impede their proceedings. For example, the executor cannot refuse to provide documentation on the estate that beneficiaries need to contest the will. Nor can the executor seek frivolous protective orders to prevent beneficiaries from pursuing appropriate legal remedies.

While the executor may defend against litigation that lacks merit, they cannot abuse their position to obstruct heirs from accessing the court system. Any efforts to improperly shield the executor’s actions from scrutiny can be grounds for removal.

Executors wield significant control during probate but must respect boundaries set by ethics, fiduciary duties, and Minnesota law. Understanding these limitations helps ensure the proper administration of an estate during a difficult time for grieving families. Beneficiaries should seek counsel if they believe an executor is exceeding their powers or failing to act properly in settling the estate.

Removing an Executor in Minnesota

When an executor fails to fulfill their fiduciary duties, Minnesota law allows beneficiaries to petition for their removal. This may happen if the executor:

  • Steals from the estate
  • Grossly mismanages assets
  • Refuses to communicate with beneficiaries
  • Fails to make timely progress in estate administration

The probate court reviews the complaint and evidence to determine if removal is warranted. If so, the court appoints a new executor.

Beneficiaries should consult a probate attorney if they believe seeking the executor’s removal may be necessary.

Executor Fees in Minnesota

Minnesota executors earn a reasonable fee for their services. State law allows 2-5% of the estate’s value, depending on the size and complexity. Executors should keep detailed records of their time and duties. If heirs believe the executor’s fee request is excessive, they can object to the court.

When your loved one passes on, having a knowledgeable executor to handle the estate is crucial. But, executors must comply with fiduciary obligations and stay within the scope of their legal authority during probate. Understanding an executor’s limitations can help avoid potential disputes down the road. If you need guidance on choosing an executor or navigating probate in Minnesota, consult with an estate planning attorney.

Get Help  With Your Minnesota Probate Case

The probate process can be complex for both executors and beneficiaries. Navigating the limits on an executor’s authority adds another tricky dimension when administering an estate.

Disputes between executors and heirs over any of the issues discussed here can quickly escalate if the proper steps are not taken. However, the experienced probate attorneys at Safe Harbor Estate Law in St. Paul can guide you through this difficult process. Don’t struggle through Minnesota probate alone. Their attorneys support executors and beneficiaries alike.

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