From our “Ask a Question” mailbag: I filed my father’s will with the Surrogate and was named the Personal Representative, but am having second thoughts. My family is litigious. Can I be sued and found personally liable?
By accepting the position of Personal Representative you became a fiduciary with a duty to the beneficiaries. If your family is litigious, you are right to be concerned. All the beneficiaries have the right to petition the Surrogates Court and ask the court to surcharge you should they feel any action you took reduced their inheritance. This could be a sale of land at too low a price, a fee you paid to a creditor, or even your salary.
Don’t give the beneficiaries any money until you have received from them a full release of liability!
Because of this chance of liability, New Jersey allows every Personal Representative the right to use estate funds to hire an experienced probate lawyer to represent them. One of the probate attorney’s jobs is to keep you out of trouble, and to secure for you a full release of liability. Given that the heirs are litigious, you would be well advised to retain an experienced estate attorney with litigation experience to represent you.
If you have any other questions about Probate, feel free to contact our office for a free consultation with one of our Probate Lawyers.