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Fiduciary Duties in the Breach

Senior lawyer relates story of how an executor refuses to show beneficiaries the will or the accounts. The discussion deals with fiduciary duties and remedies available when executors breach their obligations.

Transcript

So this young guy is an orphan. His father died when he was 10 years old. In his father’s will he appointed his brother and business partner Sol to be the executor. He’s now 20.  He’s supposed to be the sole beneficiary of the estate. So he goes to his uncle and he says, “Uncle Sol, I’ve never seen a copy of my father’s will. Will you show me a copy?”

He says: “What you don’t trust me?”

He says, “No Uncle Sol, but I’d like to see a copy of the will.

“You don’t have to see a copy of the will. The will put me in charge I decide what happens. I decide who sees the will. I decide what happens with your father’s estate. Mind your own business.”

He says, “Uncle Sol, I went to a lawyer and I was told I could see a copy of the will.”

He says, “Your lawyer, that lazy, good for nothing bum. He probably never worked an honest day in his life His mother and father paid for him to go to law school. Forget what your lawyer says, I’m your uncle Sol, listen to me!”

He says, “Uncle Sol, you’ve never shown me the books of the business. My dad owned half the business, I’d like to see the books.”

He says, “You’re dad did own half the business, but I bought it.”

“Uncle Sol, you’re the executor, how can you buy half the business? Don’t you have a conflict of interest? How can you be the buyer and the seller at the same time? How could you have gotten a fair price?”

“You don’t trust me?” says uncle Sol. “You’re calling me a cheater?  You’re calling me a liar?”

“No uncle Sol, I just want to see the books.”

He says, “Mind your own business. I’ve been doing a good job up until now.  I’m continuing to do a good job.”

He says, “Uncle Sol, I’m told that you have to keep books.  You have to keep records. Did you keep books?”

“No”

“Did you keep records?”

“No”

It reminds me of a joke Steve Martin says the following: “How do you make a million dollars without paying taxes? First you make a million dollars.  Then you don’t pay taxes. And then when the IRS comes to collect you say, I forgot.

Many times executors honour their fiduciary obligations in the breach. They don’t keep records They don’t disclose to the beneficiaries And that’s why a lot of these things end up in court.

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