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How do you remove an executor compassionately?

It is a sad truth that not all appointed executors are up to the task. Some people are blindsided by the position, completely unaware their loved one chose them until the event of their death. Others think they can handle it but grief or an uncontrollable circumstance leaves them overwhelmed.

If you think the executor of a will is overburdened, unqualified, or simply the wrong person for the job, can you remove them? Is there a way to do so compassionately?

Why would you need to remove an executor?

Executors are sometimes the deceased's spouse, adult child, parents or friend. Although your loved one may have trusted them when they wrote their will, circumstances can change.

The following are reasons you may want to remove an executor:

  • The person is not mentally sound.
  • The person is not financially responsible.
  • The person's relationship with the deceased or their beneficiaries changed significantly before their death.
  • The person lives far away and is therefore unable to make deadlines. (California does not have an in-state residency requirement for executors, but distance can make things difficult.)
  • The person neglects their fiduciary duties regarding the estate.

There is a narrow window of time to remove an executor from the position before they do irreparable damage to the estate (either intentionally or unintentionally). You may need legal assistance to approach them with your concerns.

How can you communicate with them compassionately?

Know that many wills or estate plans name a backup executor who can serve in the event the first choice cannot. A legal advisor can help you find and prepare this person, or if you are that person, they can help you prepare a discussion with the current executor.

Your discussion can center around your concern for the estate, the beneficiaries, the person's legacy or even important upcoming deadlines and the real consequences for missing them. They have a legal responsibility to perform their duties to the best of their ability. It might not be their fault that their best isn't compatible with what the estate needs.

An advisor can help guide this discussion in private or in front of a judge. If you need to remove an executor of an estate, learn about your legal options.

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