Question: My sister is the Executor of my mother’s estate. She had three children and we all share the estate equally. My sister sent me a Receipt and Release Agreement proposing a distribution to me of $50,000.00. I want the money, but I don’t feel comfortable signing the Receipt and Release. What should I do?
Answer: My advice would be to not sign the Receipt and Release until you are provided an accounting by your sister as Executor of the Estate. You should demand this accounting in writing. This accounting should show what she collected, what was paid out, how much is on hand and how she calculated your one-third (1/3) share. In the alternative, your sister could provide you with copies of all estate account statements and copies of her check register showing deposits and checks written. If you are satisfied after receiving the accounting or financial statements, then you can sign the Receipt and Release. This would end the matter and your share of the estate will distributed.
If your sister refuses to provide an accounting and you feel that she mismanaged the estate, your next step would be to compel her to account in the Surrogate’s Court. This is known as a Compulsory Accounting Proceeding. In this proceeding, the Court will order your sister to submit a formal accounting to the Court within a specified time. This accounting should detail all transactions of the estate in a format prescribed by the Court. Once your sister submits her accounting to the Court you will have a chance to request documents and examine your sister in a deposition regarding the accounting. If your questions are still not answered after this deposition, you can file objections to her accounting. These objections are your opportunity to detail the issues you have with the accounting. After filing objections, the matter proceeds as a contested matter and unless settled, the Court will issue a Decision. In this Decision, the Court will determine if your sister acted property as Executor and how the balance in the Estate will be distributed. If the Court finds that your sister did not act proeprly, she can be sanctioned. These sanctions could consist of a fine or denial of commissions or both.
It is always advisable to try to work things out informally with family, it saves relationships and money. However, if you try to work it out informally and you do not get the answers you need, then an accounting proceeding in Surrogate’s Court is the next step to protect your rights and your inheritance.