The executor of my wife’s family estate is waiting for all the beneficiaries to die

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Dear Moneyist,

My wife’s grandfather recently died at a ripe old age. He had three surviving daughters. My wife is his only grandchild named in his will.

There are other grandchildren. If that arrangement seems peculiar, well, the entire family has a hobby of nursing grudges over slights, both real and imagined.

More peculiarities: Upon his death, he stipulated that the money be split three ways: Two of the daughters — my wife’s aunts — get equal shares. My wife and her mother would split a share.

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Another daughter was made the executor of the will. She refuses to pay out any of the money to the others. She waited until one of her sisters died from cancer, then announced she’s keeping that share of the money.

Since the sister that died had no heirs, I guess there’s nothing to stop her. We’re coming up on a year since the grandfather’s death. I think she’s waiting for her other sister (my mother-in-law) to die, too.

The money would be nice, but my wife and I don’t need it. I know my mother-in-law needs that money. How do we get her sister to pay up?

Sean

Dear Sean,

I’ve heard a lot of stories about people who do all sorts of dastardly deeds to snare more than their fair share of an inheritance. Even Agatha Christie would have a hard time believing some of these tales. One brother stole $110,000 by altering his mother’s will. Another woman said her grandmother and uncle destroyed her grandfather’s will. Sometimes, people just take what they want and get away with it because their stunned family members do nothing.

So where does that leave you? In a pretty good spot, actually. There is no statute of limitations on an executor who refuses to do his or her job. Dragging your feet in the hope that the beneficiaries will either die or forget about the money owed to them may not qualify for a compelling plot in “Death on the Nile” or “Murder on the Orient Express,” but doing nothing can be effective, if other family members sit on their laurels too.

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All beneficiaries are entitled to receive a copy of the will and, yes, they are entitled for the estate to go through probate in a timely fashion. File a petition with the county court to challenge the executorship of this will, citing your concerns. You have good cause. As one of your wife’s aunts died before the proceeds were distributed, her portion should be left with her estate and be passed on under her will or, if there is none, state law. The assets belonged to her at the moment of your grandfather’s death.

Your wife’s aunt appears to have overstepped her role as executor, and views it as a free license to do as she pleases, without any regard for her own father’s wishes. She is beholden to the laws of her state where your wife’s grandfather died, and must provide an inventory of assets. An executor must always fulfill his/her “fiduciary duty,” which essentially puts the onus on the fiduciary to place the interests of other interested parties (that is, those mentioned in the will) ahead of their own.

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