Is There Any Time Limit(s) for a Beneficiary to File Legal Action Against the Executor of an Estate?

HNWEstate Administration and Probate

  • There is no statute of limitations on a claim against a fiduciary by an estate beneficiary.
  • If no release and refunding bond is filed (N.J.S.A. 3B:23-24) by the executor or administrator, and IF there is no written waiver by all eligible beneficiaries (R.4:87-9), then an estate remains open and the estate and its executor is still subject to claims by beneficiaries, creditors and interested parties.
  • In short, there is no such thing as “too long” to wait to file a claim against an estate. But the longer you wait the harder it is to win.

estate administrationSometimes beneficiaries sue an Executor years after an Estate has been closed.   In such a situation, an Executor or Administrator may invoke the doctrine of laches.  It’s most likely the best defense relating to the time available to defend against the statutory right to compel an accounting.

Understanding the Doctrine of Laches When Defending Claims by an Estate Beneficiary

When determining whether the doctrine of laches should be invoked, the court considers: (1) the length of the delay; (2) the reasons for the delay; and (3) how the circumstances of the parties have changed over the course of the delay.  The period of time during which laches can be raised as an equitable defense is flexible, not fixed.  “The core equitable concern in applying laches is whether [the opposing] party has been [unfairly] harmed by the delay.”  Whether laches applies depends on the “facts of the particular case and is a matter within the sound discretion of the trial court.

In one case, an executor successfully used a laches defense to defeat a compulsory accounting demand.  In this case, the beneficiary signed a release and refunding bond six years prior.  The court said the executor was allowed to toss all his records because the estate was closed.  Contrast this with another unreported case where a beneficiary who had not signed off on any accounting (though the other beneficiaries had) brought an action five years after the death to compel an accounting successfully.  This beneficiary was able to bring an action against the estate representative.

So the conclusion is that if the estate is open – meaning no sign-off by all beneficiaries, no court order has been entered approving the accounting, then a challenge by a beneficiary or other interested party is permissible after one year and from the date of the fiduciary’s appointment.

To discuss your NJ Estate Administration & Probate matter, please contact Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. toll-free at (855) 376-5291 or email him at  Please ask us about our video conferencing consultations if you are unable to come to our office.

By Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. of Hanlon Niemann & Wright, a Freehold Township, Monmouth County NJ Estate Administration and Probate Attorney

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