When a person is appointed by the Surrogate’s Court as an Administrator or Executor of a decedent’s estate, he assumes a great deal of powers and responsibilities. Estates, Powers and Trusts law Section 11-1.1 entitled “Fiduciaries powers” sets forth an extensive statement of authority which an estate fiduciary may exercise. The statute includes such powers as a right to invest estate property, collect rents, sell property, mortgage property, make repairs, contest or settle claims for the estate and to distribute estate assets, just to name a few of the many areas of authority.
While an executor or administrator may have these numerous powers, there is also a requirement that the fiduciary act properly and responsibly. If he abuses his powers he may be found to have breached his fiduciary duties and be held personally liable for any loss or damage caused by his actions.
There are many situations where a fiduciary who is settling an estate needs to make decisions but the outcome of his action is not clear. The fiduciary knows he needs to act but does not want to proceed if things go wrong and he is held to account for any loss or harm to the estate. For example, an estate may hold property or assets which need to be sold to pay estate obligations or to effectuate distribution to beneficiaries. The executor or administrator may not know whether the potential sales price is sufficient so as to avoid criticism from the parties interested in the estate. Obviously, if a fiduciary can obtain pre-sale approval from the Surrogate’s Court, he may be able to avoid estate litigation or a contested accounting proceeding.