Not infrequent is the case in which an executor of an estate or relative of a decedent begins to parcel out estate property before granted authority by the court.
In a recent case handled by this firm, the son of the decedent began giving furniture and heirlooms to grandchildren long before the will was found and probated. Fortunately for that son, the matter was settled before the son was could be sued for his misdeeds.
Explaining why family members of a deceased do this is not hard: they "know the deceased wishes" or are "just doing what's fair."
In the case of In re Estate of Tarpley, just handed down by the Court of Appeals, the high price of doing this is made manifest. In it, an executrix and sole heir of an estate sold an automobile belonging to the deceased for $12,000 before probate was complete. Later, and after the will was overturned for lack of testamentary capacity, the executrix found herself trying to cover up what was an improper disposition of estate property.
Before the appeal was finished in Tarpley, the executor (since removed from office) owed the estate $96,433.73 in compensatory and punitive damages.
About half of this damages award was overturned on appeal; nevertheless because of the Georgia law regarding executors de son tort, damages in the case of bad actors in estates can be quite harsh.
The full text of the case follows below. Click on the "read more" link.
In Royal v. Blackwell, handed down by the Georgia Supreme Court on July 5, 2011, the court held that a lawsuit for an executor's breach of fiduciary duty was not moot, even though all parties except the executor had settled the case and the money that had been improperly distributed by the executor was returned to the proper party.
Executors of wills owe a strict duty to the estate, and the very fact that the executor had breached that duty, the Court explained, gave rise to damages, even if the breach had been corrected.
The judge of the trial court in the case had awarded attorney fees against the executor. The Supreme Court overruled this part of the lower court's decision, stating that it was for a jury to decide whether a party to a case has committed one of the acts that give rise to ground for awarding attorney fees.
Click "read more" below and to the right for the full text of the case.
Tanner Pittman, LLC is a West Georgia law firm that specializes in estate services, civil litigation, and legal transactions.
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