What happens if an heir/executor refuses to have anything to do with the estate?

What happens if an heir and/or executor refuses to have anything to do with the estate? For example John Doe Sr. dies and leaves the bulk (or entirety) of his estate to his estranged son John Doe Jr. Junior doesn’t want the inheritance and isn’t willing to be executor. He doesn’t even attend the reading of the will. Nor is he willing to make the trip to the attorney’s office to meet them or sign anything. Let’s also assume Senior didn’t make any provision in his will appointing a subsitute executor or assingning Junior’s share to anyone else (yes, I know this is horrible estate planning). Does the probate court just assign everything to the next-in-line-next-of-kin as Senior died intestate? If anyone else is left something in the will does Junior’s share automatically go to them (even if there’s a closer relative who wasn’t mentioned at all)? How handles stuff it they aren’t any other relatives willing to step in?

(Disclaimer: This is a purely hypothetical situtation. I am not asking for legal advice or myself or anyone else.)

We looked into this when my estranged father died, and in Saskatchewan, if no one is willing to become executor of the estate, the province (state) would become executor and handle everything that needs handling. As far as I know, no one is ever forced to become an executor of an estate - if no one wants the job, no one has to take the job (there are responsibilities and liabilities that come with the job). I suspect it would be the same across North America, because there are any number of people who die every year with no family at all, or no known identity.

Alternatively, if there is someone connected to the deceased who is willing to take on the responsibility, the Court can appoint that person as administrator. Before doing so, the Court would hold a hearing to be sure that the appointed executor is truly refusing to act. If the Court is convinced and appoints and administrator, the administrator has all the powers of the executor, but reports back to the Court in more detail than is the case with an executor.

As for the case of an heir who refuses to accept his bequest, I’m not sure what would happen in a common law jurisdiction. In civil jurisdictions, an heir has the right to renounce the succession.

If no executor is named, or if the executor definitively declines to execute the will (see Northern Piper’s post for process), the Court will appoint an administrator – which may be someone connected to the deceased, or may be a person who regularly fills the role for instestate estates.

Refusal of a bequest would ordinarily mean the bequest would go to the remaindermen. I would imagine if the entire estate is left to someone refusing it, and no alternate bequest is made, the laws for intestate estates would kick in – with the person refusing the bequest out of the picture, of course.

E.g., Jones, estranged from his only son (and only child), nonetheless makes him his executor and sole heir, with no alternate provisions. Jones’s only sister, now deceased, has three children. Either one of them or the official Court Administrator if there is one administers the estate; supposing the law to make the nieces and nephews the next kin after the son, the estate would pass to them on the son’s refusal, as if there had been no will.

How do they go about doing that? Would Junior actually have to show up in person (& who pays for that)? Or does he just get something in the mail he needs to sign? Wouldn’t something like that need to be signed in front of a notary? Who arranges (& pays for) that notary?

Note: the above post is not trying to usurp the better knowledge of the Dopers-at-Law, but to answer the question based on what I learned about New York Estate Law when my senile grandfather and his senile attorney wrote a will leaving things he no longer owned to people and erroneously trying to dispose of property that would pass to my grandmother, who survived him, under tenancy by the entireties. Sorry if it sounds “This is the right answer”-ish – it’s a parallel to what we ended up doingto straighten out the mess the will would have caused.

That’s a good question - I don’t think it should cost you time and money to refuse a duty that you never asked for and don’t want.

It’s like any other court proceeding. If the parties can agree on the matter without the need for testimony, then witnesses need not attend. But if the matter is in dispute, subpoenas can issue to compel attendance.

The cost of proceedings arising out of an estate matter are often paid out of the estate.

IANAL but it seems to me that there’s a difference between “I am not willing to be the executor” and “I do not wish to inherit anything.” It may be that a person doesn’t feel themselves qualified or able to execute the will, or to administrate the estate (if no will); that doesn’t have to mean that they give up their right to the property.

My uncle passed away last year intestate; his surviving next of kin (who would normally be appointed administrator) was his mother, who was 89, legally blind, and had just prior to that lost her husband (who handled the family finances). My mother and grandmother went to court together and simply asked the judge to name my mother the administrator of the estate, because my grandmother was unable to do it. My grandmother still inherited the property, but my mother took care of sorting it out for her.

The question of dividing property when one or more of the people who would have received a portion refuses their share is an interesting one, but what I think would be fascinating to see is some probated wills where this sort of thing was allowed for. (Sort of like the old math problem about dividing 17 horses among 3 sons?)

This happened recently in my family, when an elderly, widowed aunt died recently, and her will appointed the wife of her youngest brother as executor. She was in her 70’s, not in the best of health, was living about 200 miles away, and hadn’t seen any of the people named in the will for many years. So she did not want to serve as executor.

All we did was apply to the local court to have her replaced as executor (with a local bank employee, who had been handling my aunt’s finances for the last several years while she was in the retirement home). The original executor didn’t even have to appear in court, she sent a signed, notarized statement which was filed in court. But I understand even that wasn’t necessary – the judge could have appointed someone else even without her approval.

Would that be in the case of people who are disputing the disposition of property, or people who simply don’t want anything to do with the duties of being an executor?

How about when the estate has no money or assets in it, or is quite heavily in debt?