As an Atlanta, Georgia probate dispute lawyer, I know a personal representative who “steals” or “defrauds” an estate, or otherwise behaves dishonestly, is a nightmare for a grieving family, the beneficiaries, and heirs. Unfortunately, I have seen in my Atlanta probate law firm practice, this occurs more than you might think. Inexperience with the legal and financial duties of a personal representative can lead to mistakes that have very bad results for the estate and its heirs or beneficiaries. In other cases, because executors and administrators are frequently family members or close friends of the person who died (decedent), they may have emotional or financial reasons for not being completely genuine. Or, they may have fallen on tough times and just think nobody is watching and no real harm will be done by “stealing” a “little bit” here and there.
Fortunately, Georgia fiduciary law allows you several ways to deal with a personal representative who is not meeting his or her duties, being dishonest or otherwise engaging in self-dealing. If you know ahead of time that the personal representative is not trustworthy, you may file a caveat — a probate law term for a formal objection — to that person’s role as personal representative. As a Georgia probate litigation lawyer engaged in will contests and probate disputes, I vastly prefer to take steps long before this stage, to minimize the costs to my client from both fraud and legal fees. Nevertheless, it is often not until the probate process is underway that heirs and beneficiaries realize that there are problems.
For that reason, the law also allows them to formally sue a dishonest personal representative for breach of fiduciary duty — that is, breach of the duty to act wisely and legally with another person’s money. In fact, you can file this type of claim when the personal representative has merely threatened to breach that duty, as well as when you have positive evidence that he or she has breached it. If you can prove your claim, you can ask a court to order one or more of the following remedies:
• Stop a threatened breach of fiduciary duty • Remove the personal representative • Replace the personal representative
• Compel the personal representative to do his or her duties • Reduce or deny payment to the personal representative • Have the personal representative pay back money stolen or lost because of a breach of fiduciary duty • Compel damage payments (compensation for the petitioner’s losses) from the executor or administrator (personal representative)
• Money or property given to the wrong beneficiary may also be placed in trust by the court while it works out the proper ownership.
I do my best to ensure that my Atlanta probate clients do not face these issues in the first place. Regardless, The Libby Law Firm is available to file caveats or file Georgia probate litigation over any disputes in an estate, including breaches of fiduciary duty. If you would like to speak with an experienced Georgia estate litigator about your case, please feel free to contact us (404) 467-8611 to see how we can assist you. Please also feel free to send us a confidential e-mail Web Site contact us form. The Libby Law Firm is conveniently located in the Buckhead section of Atlanta, GA near the intersection of Piedmont and Roswell Roads.