A person usually names someone to act as the executor for his estate in his will. If he doesn't do this, then the probate court will appoint an executor to handle everything. It is the responsibility of the executor to distribute the funds from the estate, but sometimes executors spend estate monies improperly, or their distributions don't seem to follow what survivors feel is appropriate. This raises the question of whether an executor can spend estate money as he pleases.
In general, executors cannot spend estate funds any way they like. They have to adhere to the stipulations of the deceased's will. They also have to follow laws about estate distribution. These laws dictate which creditors get priority in debt repayment and how much heirs can receive if there is no will.
As a representative of the estate, an executor has a fiduciary duty of trust to the deceased and the survivors. This means that the executor has to act in the best interest of the deceased. This subsequently means that the executor is not suppose to gain any personal benefit from serving as the executor, except as designated by the will.
Executors as Paid Representatives and Beneficiaries
There are two instances in which it is perfectly legal for an executor to acquire money from the estate of a deceased person. The first is if the deceased specifically stated in the will that the executor was entitled to some funds as compensation for his efforts as executor. The second is if the executor also is a beneficiary for the estate. This often happens with couples. In both of these cases, the executor can spend his funds as he pleases, just like any other worker or beneficiary, since the wishes of the deceased essentially stipulate that the executor distribute those funds to himself.
Executor Against Survivors
In some instances, the terms of the deceased's will or the laws of the executor's jurisdiction may require the executor to distribute funds from an estate in ways that are contrary to the wishes of the deceased's survivors. This can give the impression that the executor is acting under his own desire, when in fact he is merely carrying out his duties. As long as the executor is following proper protocols, it does not matter whether survivors disagree with the executor's distributions.
In instances where you suspect an executor is acting fraudulently, you can file a complaint against the executor with the probate court. This triggers the court to review the records of the executor as related to his duties. Executors have to account for all the spending they do from an estate, so the review can determine whether the executor isn't doing his job properly. If the court finds fraud has occurred, the court may fine or jail the executor, and the court may appoint a new executor.