When people choose executors, they try to choose someone they trust to be both honorable and competent when it comes to following their wishes. Most of the time, people choose wisely. A child, a spouse or even a close friend can and typically will follow a testor's instructions in a last will or estate plan to ensure that assets are properly distributed and all estate matters get handled in a timely manner.
Sometimes, however, the person chosen to act as executor isn't up to the task. When this happens, the assets of the estate could be at risk. Other heirs or family members may worry about what will happen to their inheritance and the deceased's wishes.
In extreme cases, it may become necessary to challenge an executor in court. The probate courts of New York will then decide if the executor has breached his or her fiduciary duty to the testator and any heirs of the estate.
Long-distance issues or lack of effort could pose a problem
If the chosen executor lives in another state, has traveled abroad or works far from where the deceased lived, that can be a recipe for an estate disaster. Even people with the best of intentions can find themselves procrastinating when it comes to cleaning out a home and dividing the assets of an estate. When you compound that with a large distance to travel, handling the estate could end up low on the executor's priority list.
A delay of a few days or even a few weeks is reasonable. Months without handling assets, tending to financial matters or cleaning out a house, however, could end up causing problems for everyone. Unpaid bills could result in forfeiture of a property or diminished assets for heirs. If an executor is refusing to attend to matters, you may have to challenge him or her in probate court.
Unethical behavior, like keeping assets, can be grounds for a challenge
Sometimes, even the best people can end up making ethically questionable decisions when it comes to money. If there are valuable assets in the estate that aren't specifically awarded to one heir, an executor could remove these valuables with the intention of keeping or selling them for personal profit.
It's also possible for an executor to diminish the value of an estate for personal gain. Maybe their spouse, child or sibling is a real estate investor. An executor could choose to accept an inappropriately low offer on a property, with the intention of benefiting a non-heir or splitting the difference of the value with the buyer.
If you have reason to believe assets have been stolen or the executor is trying to indirectly profit from the estate, it may be time to challenge the executor in court.