That depends on what you mean by refuse.
If an executor or personal representative is interpreting a will differently than you and believes they are correct, that is different than an outright and illegal refusal to follow the wishes of a will or intestacy law. If you believe an executor is abusing their duty by not selling a house, you have two main options:
- Petition the probate court to ask them to demand that the executor perform a specific duty or action
- Ask the probate court to remove the executor from their role
Both options may bring disputes, drama, and (likely) more legal fees, so make sure you know the risks. But if you stand at the edge of losing an inheritance, and you think it’s unjust, then unfortunately it may be time to get a probate lawyer.
That being said, don’t confuse misinterpretation with malice. They could just be reading the will differently, and that difference is coming at your expense. If you fundamentally disagree with an interpretation of a will but don’t think it is foul play, try talking it over. If that fails, then you can ask the probate court or probate clerk for clarity before filing an official petition (although they may just tell you to petition the court). The probate court clarifying what the executor must do should be enough.
And finally, the executor may have a good reason for refusing or acting slowly. Maybe they ran into some issues with how the house is titled, or maybe the will says to split ownership of the house but not to actually sell it. If you petition the probate court, you will get clarity and a chance for them to say what their reasoning is. And unless they are right, they will be forced by the probate judge to take the next step, whatever it is.
A short but important caveat on an executor’s duty
An executor has a moral and legal responsibility to follow a will’s direction.
If a will does not exist, then the executor still has a legal mandate to distribute an estate’s assets according to the relevant state’s intestacy laws (the laws that govern what happens when someone dies without a will).
Executors technically become a fiduciary while serving an estate, which has widespread legal meaning and ramifications, but essentially means they must prioritize their duty, which in this case is following a will or set of intestacy laws, over their own personal interests — even if an executor is also a beneficiary.
There is no if, and, or buts here.
If an executor is ignoring their responsibilities, going against what the will or laws say, and is clearly showing intent to abuse the system, that is a criminal act.
The bottom line on executors refusing to sell a house
Executors, executrices, and personal representatives have a moral and legal responsibility to follow the directions of the will or intestacy laws. They cannot act outside of what those documents say, and if they do, then they may be admonished by the probate court or even charged with criminal activity.
If you think someone is abusing their position by refusing to sell a house, you can petition the court to force the executor to fulfill a particular duty, assuming the court agrees that the action is in line with the will or intestacy laws.