Executor/Administrator/trustee responsibilities

"After the persons death, does't the trust/will have to be settled within a certain amount of time? Our father passed away August 18, 2007 and our sisters (trustees of the will) are basically dragging their feet in settleing the estate."

When someone passes away, the trustees (under a revocable trust) and the executor (also called personal administrator) under their will (sometimes its the same person or people, other times it can be different people) are responsible to administer the trust and/or estate as required under the governing legal document (will and/or trust) and local (state) law. If the estate exceeds the threshold to file an estate tax return, then a return is due, and any tax has to be paid, within nine (9) months of death. There is no extension for paying the tax. If the deadline is missed the executor (trustee) could be personally liable for the interest and penalties incurred. Many states have estate, inheritance or other transfer taxes that could require filings and payments even if no federal estate tax is due. Again, if the executor/trustee is remiss in carrying out their duties, they can be held responsible.

The duties of the executor including marshalling all estate assets (collecting them), paying bills, and distributing assets as under the will. Depending on what debts, claims or liabilities the estate may have, if they are not paid, or certain steps taken to identify claimants, the executor could be held personally liable.

If there are estate assets, like a CD that the decedent, your father, owned on death, if the CD matured and it should not have been permitted to, this and other investment issues are the responsibility of the executor. If your father owned a house and it was not protected (e.g., locks changed, utility bills paid, etc.) the executor could be responsible.

If the executors have dragged their feet and failed to sell a house and the market dropped (housing prices in some areas have more then dropped, they've crashed) the decline in value might be a result of the executors inaction. This could possible make the executor liable for failing to protect estate assets (that is a tougher question, depends on the will, etc.).

If the executor/trustee (your sisters) have not carried out their fiduciary responsibilities as executors and trustees they could be removed from those positions and the court could order a replacement. That might be in addition to holding them responsible for costs, losses, etc.

So if they are dragging their feet, they should get on the stick, hire an estate planner to help with the administration, make sure all estate assets (e.g., your dad's house) are insured, address proper investment of estate assets, hire an accountant (preferably a CPA) to address making sure your father's final income tax return was filed and that the estate income tax return was filed (yes, there could be more penalties and interest charges they could be held responsible for on those matters as well).

You should politely request that they get on the job, if not write a polite letter. If still no action, suggest to them that while you really don't want to ask a lawyer, you'rr worried and will have to do so if they are not handling their responsibilities. If still no action, hire a local estate litigator (an attorney that spends a significant part of his or her time doing estate litigation/suits) to send them or their attorney the message. If that doesn't work, your litigator should file the appropriate complaint (court filing) to commence an action to have them removed as fiduciaries (executors, trustees, etc.).

Bear in mind they might be doing their job but just not communicating to you. That would change the dynamic of what is involved and the possible wrongs they've committed.

Be very careful. There are VERY strict deadlines for various types of actions. Move now. Don't wait.

We cannot answer state specific issues, so you must consult with an attorney that handles probate in your state (it is called a probate attorney even if your father had a living trust). Rules differ significantly by state.