SOCIAL SECURITY 2023 UPDATE SSI FOR NYS RESIDENTS Individual $1,001/month Couple $1,475/month MAXIMUM TAXABLE…
** This article has been revised from its original version which was published on May 4, 2016.
As a beneficiary of an estate or trust you have a legal right to information, even if you were not named as the fiduciary (executor or trustee of an estate).
If you are a beneficiary who is not getting answers about the status of a trust or estate, it’s important to know that you have options. You can hire a New York estate lawyer to represent you, and they can communicate with the attorney who represents the fiduciary.
The attorneys can communicate with requests for trust or estate information such as:
- Bank statements
- Real estate records
- A list of assets
- Expenses paid
- Documentation of disbursements
Beneficiaries often hire a New York estate lawyer because they have unsuccessfully attempted to get information from the executor or trustee of an estate, and wish to have their questions and concerns addressed. Someone has passed away; they know that they are a beneficiary, but they are not sure of anything else. If the fiduciary refers you to their attorney, be aware they don’t represent you and aren’t obligated to advocate for your rights when settling an estate.
How an Estate Attorney Represents a Beneficiary
An attorney who represents your rights as a beneficiary can communicate with the fiduciary’s attorney, explain your concerns, and request information or an informal accounting.
An informal accounting would include a list of the assets and expenses, as well as a status of the administration of the trust or estate. After the beneficiaries review the informal accounting, they can make additional inquiries about the assets of the trust or estate, and request additional items. They may want proof of expenditures, such as taxes that were paid, etc.
Compulsory Accounting and Litigation
If your request for an informal accounting is ignored or not properly addressed, your estate planning attorney can petition the court for a compulsory accounting.
By bringing a petition for compulsory accounting, the fiduciary is compelled to cooperate within a given timeframe. Although sometimes this is necessary, it is not an ideal situation. Once you petition the court, you are involved in litigation, which can be very time-consuming and expensive.
After beneficiaries have an opportunity to review the accounting, if they are not satisfied, they can demand discovery.
The Discovery Process
In discovery, the fiduciary can be ordered to show bank statements, brokerage statements, tax returns, and additional documentation needed to verify and explain the accounting.
If discovery does not bring resolution, the next step is to demand a deposition—which will give your attorney the opportunity to question the fiduciary about their actions. Litigation is not fun, and can ultimately lead to a significant reduction of the estate or trust assets because of the legal fees involved in settling an estate.
We advise our clients to try to communicate with the fiduciary to obtain the information requested prior to involving the court. It is preferable to allow the fiduciary a reasonable amount of time and opportunity to provide the information requested and settle the estate or trust informally. Although it may be tempting to give in to passion, it is usually economically beneficial for all parties to be reasonable in their requests and transparent in the information provided.
We also recommend that beneficiaries consult with an attorney before signing any documents that may waive a legal right. As a beneficiary, you have rights, and you should ensure that those rights are protected by hiring an experienced estate planning attorney to represent you.
How would you proceed if you were named beneficiary to an estate but unable to get answers from the executor or trustee?
If you are a beneficiary with concerns about communication with a fiduciary of an estate, a New York estate attorney can help. Schedule a consultation to inquire about your rights as a beneficiary. At Russo Law Group, P.C., our experienced attorneys can request the information you need, negotiate, or, if necessary, represent you in court.