When a person dies, an estate may be opened to handle the disposition of the deceased's money, property, and other assets. Oftentimes. such dispositions are done in accordance with the person's will. If the person doesn't have a will, then Iowa's probate code determines how the person's estate is distributed.
The estate proceedings are managed by an executor (if the person has a will and named someone as executor) or an administrator (if the person didn't name an executor). The executor or administrator is subject to the supervision and control of the probate court. Part of the probate court's control includes the discretion to remove an executor or administrator for various reasons. That can be done on the court's own initiative, but proceedings to remove an executor or administrator are usually begun by someone who's not happy with the way the executor or administrator is managing the estate.
Iowa Code 633.65 provides that a court may remove executors or administrators of an estate if they cease meeting the statutory qualifications for serving as an executor or administrator, have mismanaged the estate, have failed to perform any duty imposed by law or by any lawful order of court, or cease to be an Iowa resident. Some of the statutory qualifications for serving as an executor or administrator include being an adult, being competent, being suitable, and being an Iowa resident, unless an Iowa resident also serves as executor or administrator or the court grants permission for a nonresident to serve alone in that capacity. The courts have explained and defined those statutory terms over the decades that Iowa's probate code has been in effect.
Each of these case are decided upon there own unique facts, and probate courts have tremendous discretion in deciding whether to remove an executor or administrator, but here are some points culled from the cases that can cause a probate court to remove an administrator or executor:
- Failure to render true and accurate accounting of estate assets.
- Failure to treat all beneficiaries of an estate fairly and impartially.
- Using the position of executor or administrator for personal advantage or profit.
- Taking actions without the probate court's permission when such permission was required.
- Unwarranted hostility between the executor or administrator and the beneficiaries.
- Failing to exercise reasonable care in the management of the estate.
- A conflict of interest between the personal interests of the executor or administrator and the interests of the estate or the beneficiaries.
- Failure to make distribution's in accordance with the deceased's testamentary instructions.
- Litigation between the executor or administrator and the beneficiaries, such as a will contest.
- Past poor administration of other estates, trusts, or similar situations in which the person had assumed a fiduciary role similar to an executor or administrator.
- As a general matter, courts can consider the character, integrity, soundness of judgment, and general capacity of the executor or administrator and the special conditions of the estate in determining whether removal is appropriate.
Conduct sufficient to remove an administrator or executor can occur before the person assumes that position. Further, the conduct does not have to relate to estate or probate or any such matters. It can be anything that reflects on the suitability of the person to serve as executor or administrator. Criminal or civil liability need not be proved in order for the court to remove the person.