A will is a foundational estate planning document. Among other things, this legal document is used to appoint a trusted person to serve as executor. An executor of a will is responsible for identifying assets, securing assets, resolving debts and other creditor claims, and distributing all remaining property in accordance with the wishes of the decedent.
One of the most important duties of the executor to a will is keeping all of the beneficiaries fully informed throughout the entirety of the process. Indeed, a good executor takes the time to ensure that everyone is on the same page and understands exactly what is going on. This raises an important question: What options do beneficiaries have if an executor is not disclosing relevant information? Here, our San Antonio probate attorneys explain what you need to know about your rights if the executor is withholding details.
In Texas, a Will is a Public Record — Eventually
Unlike living trusts and other estate planning vehicles, a will becomes part of the public record. As explained by the Probate Courts of Bexar County, a probated will is a matter of public record. Once a will has gone into the probate process, members of the public—whether or not they have any direct interest—can see the will by going through the county clerk and paying the required fees. Only in a very narrow set of cases, usually when a celebrity or other public figure involved, are wills sealed by courts.
With that in mind, it is worth noting that the probate process can sometimes be slow and frustrating. This means that family members and other loved ones may not have immediate access to a will. Before a will is deposited with the proper county court, the executor holds control over it. As a general rule, it is considered to be a best practice for executors to keep beneficiaries in the loop regarding the probate process. In most cases, executors may even show the will to interested parties upon receiving a reasonable request.
Still, that does not happen in every case. Unfortunately, there are sometimes conflicts between executors and beneficiaries. Sadly, some executors abuse their position. If the executor is not providing relevant information to you—whether they are simply ignoring your correspondence or they are denying access outright—you should reach out to an experienced Texas probate attorney. An attorney will be able to answer your questions, help you understand all available legal options, and offer guidance on how to protect your inheritance rights.
Beneficiaries Can Take Legal Action to Hold a Will Executor Accountable
Under Texas law, executors must follow the instructions contained within the will. Beyond that, they are held to a fiduciary duty. The highest standard of care under American law, a fiduciary duty requires a person in a position of privilege to act with reasonable skill, competence, and in the best interests of beneficiaries.
If a will executor is withholding information, it can raise some serious questions about their overall conduct. Whether they are withholding specific financial information or denying a potential beneficiary access to the will altogether, legal action may be required. In Texas, interested parties can take action to hold an executor of a will accountable in court. Depending on the specific circumstances on the case, beneficiaries to a will may petition a Texas court to:
- Order the will executor to take specific action; and/or
- Order the removal of the executor from their position.
To be clear, these are serious measures. As a general rule, petitioning a Texas court is a step that beneficiaries take only after other options have been exhausted and have failed to produce an adequate resolution. For example, if a will executor is withholding information, the first step is usually to send a letter directly to them requesting copies of all relevant documents. An experienced probate lawyer can help you prepare a letter that requests information and documents from a will executor.
Discuss Your Case With Our San Antonio, TX Probate Lawyers Today
At Weisinger Law Firm, PLLC, our compassionate Texas estate planning and probate lawyers have extensive experience handling probate issues. We are committed to offering reliable, effective advocacy to individuals and families. Our objective is to help you and your loved ones find peace through planning. To set up a free, completely confidential estate planning consultation, please contact our legal team today. We represent clients in San Antonio and throughout the surrounding communities in Bexar County and beyond.