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Executor Changed The Locks

An executor has wide-ranging powers to manage a deceased estate as he or she sees fit. Some of the actions of an executor may seem high-handed or even suspicious, but there may be an excellent reason for them to act in this way. For instance, an executor who changed the locks on a property within a deceased estate may do so in order to protect the asset from damage or loss. This article explains the authority of an executor to safeguard assets of the estate, and the concurrent power of beneficiaries to question the actions of an executor.

Responsibilities Of An Executor

A testator appoints someone as executor to administer a last will and testament. The executor is tasked with carrying out the deceased’s instructions, including the management of estate assets and liabilities. An executor must compile the assets of the deceased estate and protect these assets until they are liquidated or distributed. If an estate asset suffers damage or loss, the executor may be held personally liable for the financial loss to the beneficiaries. As such, executors need to be proactive in their protection of assets. One strategy that an executor might employ is to change the locks on an estate to prevent unauthorised entry.

For the family of the deceased, it can feel intrusive for an executor to take over management of a deceased estate, particularly when the executor is an outsider such as a lawyer or professional executor. When a stranger is assuming more authority over a deceased’s property than close family members, it can cause deep upset and even suspicion over the executor’s actions. However, an executor may have good cause to act without consultation.

Executor Changed The Locks To Safeguard Asset

As part of their responsibility to safeguard assets, the executor must secure a house and contents. It may not be necessary in a lot of cases, but when the security of a property is in question, it is better for the executor to take extra precautions.

In such circumstances, an executor may have changed the locks on the house in order to keep out trespassers, and anyone who could cause damage or remove items from the property. This might be necessary, especially if several people were given keys to the property before the testator’s death. For instance, a neighbour or former tenant may have a key to the house that is now vacant and vulnerable to intrusion. Additionally, family members may have a key and the executor may need to deter them from entering unmonitored to take items from the house before they can be distributed to the rightful beneficiaries.

Inventory Of Assets

The executor will often compile an inventory of the contents of a property at the same time as he or she secures the premises. Beneficiaries of the will are entitled to see this inventory, which should provide some reassurance when the executor has changed the locks and the family can no longer gain access to the property. An executor will often allow beneficiaries to tour the property and review the contents prior to removing valuables and personal possessions. If the executor has changed the locks and has not provided at least a list of the contents, the beneficiaries may wish to retain a solicitor to open communications with the executor.

Executor Changed the Locks Improperly

There are, however, some circumstances when an executor may have changed the locks on a property improperly. For instance, if a deceased owned a property in joint tenancy with a spouse, an executor has no right to interfere with the security of that property at all, as ownership passed to the joint tenant upon the passing of the deceased.

Removal Of Executor

When an executor has changed the locks on the house improperly as part of a pattern of mismanagement, it may be necessary to arrange for the removal of the executor. Probate legislation in each state and territory of Australia provides the Supreme Courts with the authority to remove an executor. To do this, the court must be convinced that the executor is unfit to act in the role, or that keeping them in the position would be detrimental to the deceased estate or the beneficiaries. The courts will remove and replace an executor by revoking the grant of probate and appointing an administrator to take over the management of the deceased estate.

Generally, an executor has the power, and even the responsibility, to change the locks on a property to prevent unauthorised access. In the event that an executor acts outside their purview, beneficiaries of the estate have the right to question their actions and ultimately have them removed from their position of responsibility. Please contact the team at Armstrong Legal if you have concerns over the actions of an executor. The team can help you with this and any other testamentary, succession or probate matter. Call 1300 038 223 today for specialist advice.

Dr Nicola Bowes

This article was written by Dr Nicola Bowes

Dr Nicola Bowes holds a Bachelor of Arts with first class honours from the University of Tasmania, a Bachelor of Laws with first class honours from the Queensland University of Technology, and a PhD from The University of Queensland. After a decade working in higher education, Nicola joined Armstrong Legal in 2020.

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