Like other states, New Jersey’s probate process relies on an estate administrator to gather a deceased person’s property, pay off all valid claims and distribute the balance to the person’s heirs.
The property they have authority over is not their own. It belongs to a person’s estate and will ultimately go to the heirs. This is why the administrator has what is called a fiduciary duty to the estate.
An estate administrator is not the only type of fiduciary. Trustees, guardians and powers of attorney also have fiduciary responsibilities.
Being a fiduciary is an important job with important duties. The fiduciary must follow the laws of New Jersey and the orders of any court involved in the case. They also have an obligation to obey the terms of the will, the trust or other estate documents.
Perhaps most importantly, they must always act in the best interest of the estate they are serving. They have to do what they reasonably can to protect the estate’s property and should avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest.
If a fiduciary violates their duty, others may seek to remove them from their power.
Furthermore, the fiduciary may have to reimburse the estate out of their own funds for any losses and may face other penalties. In serious cases, law enforcement authorities may be involved.
Litigation involving a fiduciary’s conduct can be complicated, risky
Thankfully, many residents of Camden and the other area suburbs carefully choose a fiduciary whom they know they and other family members and loved ones can trust.
However, should a family member feel concerned about a fiduciary’s conduct, they can consider using probate litigation both to remove the fiduciary from power and demand that they pay compensation for any damage they caused.
Family members and fiduciaries alike should remember that simply avoiding outright fraud or self-dealing, while important, is not enough to fulfill a fiduciary duty.
Even a pattern of asset mismanagement or financial negligence can be enough to raise a breach of fiduciary duty claim if the fiduciary’s actions have harmed an estate financially.
On the other hand, it can happen that a disgruntled person or business claims that a fiduciary has breached their duty even if they have only used their best judgment in a difficult situation. Fiduciaries who are accused of misbehavior should understand their legal options.