Administrators and executors are individuals appointed by a probate court to act as a personal representative (also referred to as a fiduciary) of a deceased person’s estate. Generally, executors are named in the decedent’s last will and testament, while administrators are appointed by the court when there is no known will. Either way, the administrator or executor has the same fiduciary duties of managing and closing the estate (and sometimes the management of a trust) while acting in the best interest of the decedent’s heirs and/or beneficiaries.
Unfortunately, when property and large sums of money are involved, people do not always act with integrity/empathy and things can get complicated—this is where a surety bond comes into play.
Fiduciaries must purchase an Administrator or Executor Bond (sometimes referred to as a Probate Bond or Fiduciary Bond) through a surety company, like Jet. The bond provides a financial guarantee that recompense is available should the personal representative fail to properly close the estate and/or appropriately disperse assets to the beneficiaries.
The management and closing of an estate is often a drawn-out and tedious legal process, so it's safe to say that problems generally occur in some capacity. However, the Jet team wants to help personal representatives get through this appointment scot-free. With this in mind, let’s go over the common responsibilities of a fiduciary, how to avoid violations, and what to do should a bond claim be filed on the Executor or Administrator Bond.
What Are the Responsibilities of a Personal Representative?
As stated before, there is no difference between the duties and responsibilities of an administrator and executor—the difference is just in the way they are appointed.
The probate court that is in charge of the decedent’s case will order the personal representative to complete various tasks when managing and closing the estate, as well as direct how assets are to be distributed to the appropriate beneficiaries.
Some common fiduciary tasks include, but are not limited to the following:
- Preserving and managing the decedent’s estate
- Creating and keeping an updated inventory list of estate assets
- Making and maintaining accounting records (usually to be filed with the court upon the estate’s final accounting appointment)
- Paying off debts, taxes, and any other court-ordered expenses of the estate
- Properly disbursing available assets, funds, and property to the appropriate beneficiaries
The responsibilities of a personal representative will largely depend on the size and location of the estate (probate laws vary in each state) and the wishes listed on the decedent’s will (if available).
How to Avoid a Probate Bond Claim
Failure to fulfill all fiduciary duties according to probate law can result in serious consequences such as removal of the personal representative by the probate court and/or a claim on the Administrator or Executor Bond.
Common actions that could lead to a surety bond claim include the following:
- Negligence (e.g. unnecessarily elongating the probate process or failure to manage/perform estate duties)
- Unsuitable or inaccurate inventory accounting of estate assets
- Lack of proper monetary accounting and/or keeping of detailed records
- Fraud (e.g. using estate funds and/or assets for personal use prior to court approval)
- Failure to pay off court-ordered expenses such as the estate’s income taxes, property taxes, and debts
- Incorrect distribution of funds or assets to beneficiaries
- Improper closing of the estate
Fiduciaries are often recommended to hire a personal attorney to work alongside them during their appointment to ensure they are completing all duties up to the probate court’s and state’s regulations.
Administrator or Executor Bond Claim Details
Who Can File a Claim on a Probate Bond?
A Fiduciary Bond protects the decedent’s estate and its heirs/beneficiaries from financial harm. This means only individuals that are involved in/impacted by the closing of the deceased person’s estate may bring action against the surety bond.
If an heir or beneficiary feels that the administrator or executor has failed to fulfill their appointment as a personal representative in any way, the harmed party may submit a complaint with the probate court that is overseeing the closing of the estate. In cases where the issue is not resolved by the fiduciary (the complaint must first be validated by the court), funds from the Administrator or Executor Bond may be used for reimbursement of losses to the affected claimant.
Are There Limits to Claim Filings?
Yes, claims on a surety bond are limited in two ways.
First, a claim cannot exceed the total liability covered by the surety bond which is illustrated through its dollar amount. Administrator or Executor Bonds are always required to have a custom limit and are typically based on the overall value of the estate. The deceased person’s assets, and trust (if applicable), will also be evaluated by the probate court when determining and/or approving a bond limit.
Secondly, a claim may only be filed upon a Probate Bond within its liability period. Personal representatives are required to keep an Administrator or Executor Bond active and on file with the probate court for the entire duration of their appointment. The bond will only be released for termination by the court following a successful final account hearing for the estate (i.e. official closing of the estate) or if the fiduciary resigns from their position (a new personal representative will need to take over and a brand new bond is required).
Once the surety bond has been released from liability by the probate court, the surety provider (Jet) can terminate the bond upon notice. No further claims may be filed against the bond once this occurs.
What Would a Claim on an Administrator or Executor Bond Look Like?
Let's use an example from a tale as old as time—Cinderella:
Cinderella grew up in a pretty lush estate with her parents. As we know, following her mother’s unexpected death, her father remarries. All is well between her new stepmother, Lady Tremaine, and stepsisters, Anastasia and Drizella. That is until her father’s untimely death (the poor girl can't catch a break). Unfortunately for Cinderella, the deceased parents are not her only problem—her father left a will but didn’t specify a personal representative. Cinderella’s evil stepmother is appointed as the administrator of his estate.
We all remember what happens to Cinderella in the fairytale: she gets zippity zilch from her father’s estate, but thanks to her fairy godmother, she gets her happily ever after nonetheless. However, these are modern times and Lady Tremaine is required by the probate court to obtain an Administrator Bond before she can be appointed as the estate’s official fiduciary.
Thankfully for Cinderella, Jet provides a surety bond to the stepmother. When she starts up her evil antics while overseeing the closing of the father’s estate, Cinderella has a right to pursue action via the court.
Cinderella files an official complaint with the probate court regarding her stepmother's mishandling of estate funds and the disbursement of available assets only to her daughter's accounts (Cinderella has received nothing she is owed).
Once the complaint has been received by the probate court, an investigation begins and a mandatory hearing is scheduled to discuss Lady Tremaine’s actions.
Upon the hearing, the court finds that Lady Tremaine has used estate funds for personal use, has failed to keep proper accounting records, and has improperly dispersed estate funds to beneficiaries while simultaneously neglecting to rightfully transfer what is owed to the decedent's heir, Cinderella.
The evil stepmother did everything you're not supposed to do as an estate’s personal representative. Lady Tremaine is removed from her appointment as the estate’s fiduciary and is ordered by the court to reimburse Cinderella for her financial losses. However, Lady Tremaine does not have the monetary capacity to fulfill this request, so Cinderella is forced to file a claim upon her stepmother's Administrator Bond.
Once Jet receives Cinderella’s claim notice, contact is made with Lady Tremaine to discuss the details of the alleged violation and to collect all available documentation regarding the case. This information is utilized by Jet for a review and investigation into the matter. The stepmother may be known as “evil”, but she is still a customer of Jet’s and deserves a fair investigation to ensure that baseless claims won't be awarded.
Unfortunately for Lady Tremaine, the Jet team finds the claim to be valid. Per the Administrator Bond form, Jet is legally obligated to payout justified claims up to the bond’s limit (claim payouts will never exceed the bond’s liability).
Cinderella gets her fairytale ending by inheriting her father’s estate and becoming independently wealthy. The evil stepmother on the other hand is still not having a good time.
Jet Insurance Company fulfilled its role and paid off the claim on behalf of Lady Tremaine’s violations as an estate administrator. As all surety companies require, the stepmother will be expected to reimburse Jet for the claim payout.
The Administrator Bond acted as a line of credit to Lady Tremaine with the hopes that she wouldn't have to use these funds, but once she did, the expectation is that she will fill that credit line back up to its original amount. Failure to do so could lead to further financial difficulties for Lady Tremaine.
Probate laws tend to vary in each state, so check out the links to legislative documents and Jet’s individual state research in the chart below.