Thursday, November 3, 2011

Can I be removed as co-executor because I live outside the country?

The rights and duties of an executor continue to be a mystery to most people. I'm still learning new things about estates after 25 years on the job, so I know how tough it is to fully understand what you are supposed to be doing or not doing.

The following is a question received here on my blog that I believe will interest a number of readers, as so many of you are executors yourselves:

Can a family member who you were co-listed as Executor and Power of Attorney remove your name due to the fact that you live out of the country?

Whenever a question about rights under a document arises, the first place to look is the document itself. It's not unusual for a will to state that if an executor or co-executor lives outside of the country, he/she loses the right to act as executor. While this might appear that it's the co-executor who is removing you, it's really a matter of the executor following what's in the will. Ask for a copy of the will and Power of Attorney so that you can check on that.

When you are named in a will as an executor, or named in a Power of Attorney as an attorney, in law this is considered a benefit, in that you've been given a right. The person who named you gave you the right to administer the estate, or to administer his/her finances while he/she is incapacitated. That person had his/her reasons for choosing you. This is not something that a co-executor or co-attorney can decide; the document states who is in charge and if the co-executor or co-attorney doesn't like it, he/she can choose not to act. Having said that, I can tell you that I've seen a huge number of co-executors and co-attorneys try to re-write the testator's wishes by deciding that a different arrangement would be "better". Unfortunately that only means better for them, not necessarily better for the estate. They get away with it simply because nobody challenges them.

Assuming the will and Power of Attorney that appoint you are valid, you have a choice not to accept the appointment if you think it will be too difficult from your location. You would sign a Renunciation form that would remove you. However, this is something you choose to do, not something that others choose for you.

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