Does an Estate Heir Have the Right to Full Accounting?
If you are the heir or beneficiary to a decedent's estate, you have a right to a full accounting of the estate by the executor. This accounting is a requirement of the probate court before the executor or administrator may distribute remaining estate assets to heirs and beneficiaries. If the decedent left a will, those persons, organizations or institutions to whom he left the estate are beneficiaries. If the decedent died intestate, the estate goes to heirs depending on state laws regarding intestate succession.
The executor named in the decedent's will and officially appointed by the probate court must contact the Internal Revenue Service for an employer identification number for the estate. All of the property titled solely in the decedent's name must be retitled as "The Estate of ..." with the name of the executor. All checks made out to the decedent must be endorsed by the executor and deposited into an estate account. The executor is responsible for managing the decedent's accounts, any rental properties or other assets of the estate. While the executor makes financial decisions, she may also be personally liable by beneficiaries or creditors for mismanagement of assets. Most states require executors to post a surety bond at the time of appointment for this reason.
The executor's duties include collecting and safeguarding all probatable assets and establishing the fair market value as of the date of death. The executor must post a notice to creditors in the decedent's home county newspaper, pay outstanding and ongoing debts out of estate assets, hire professionals such as attorneys and accountants, file the decedent's final tax return along with any applicable state or federal estate taxes, and pay any taxes due. She must provide the probate court with an inventory of all probatable assets with a copy to the beneficiaries. All of these activities and related costs are part of the estate accounting.
The executor has a fiduciary duty to the estate, and must account for all expenses, as well as managing estate assets. The final accounting to the probate court must include estate checking account statements, invoices, receipts, financial statements, gains or losses on sale of assets, bills of sale and other items applicable to the particular estate. The executor may also receive payment for services, generally a percentage of the estate assets. If the executor is a relative of the decedent as well as a beneficiary, he may choose to waive payment. Depending on the size and nature of the estate, settlement may take months or years. The executor should provide beneficiaries with a regular accounting, and if this does not occur the beneficiaries may file a petition with the probate court to receive this information.
Heirs and beneficiaries must be aware that some assets do not go through probate, and may not be included in the final accounting. These include any assets held under joint ownership with right of survivorship, which now belong to any joint owners. Bank accounts titled "payable on death" or mutual fund or brokerage accounts titled "transferable on death" go to the designated beneficiary, and supersede any provision in a will. Check with the probate court or the estate attorney for what information must be provided in that particular jurisdiction.