A Latin term translating to "he has laid waste" and generally used in legal issues involving the maladministration of trusts and estates.
Devastavit refers to the damage incurred to trusts and estates due to their wrongful management by the person assigned to protect a deceased owner's interests. This person is usually the executor or administrator who misuses or misapplies the assets or handles them in a way that is not in line with their duty.
Executors are given ample authority over deceased testators' properties, including selling, distribution, ownership transfers, and debt settlement, depending on the will's specifics. However, some executors mishandle or abuse this authority and bring losses to the trust or estate as a result. With the power as executor or administrator comes a strict obligation to manage the estate properly and protect it and preserve it in the best legal ways possible.
Suppose an executor commits a severe error in the estate's administration. In that case, whether deliberately or due to negligence, and this mistake leads to a loss, they can be held liable under the law, which will oblige them to pay the lost money. The terms executor and administrator essentially mean the same but differ solely in the appointing function. An executor is assigned through a deceased person's will, while an administrator, in the absence of an executor, is assigned by the court.
Real-World Example of Devastavit
Ronald Lecter was a close friend and confidant of the now-deceased Ray Thornton, who imposed upon Lector the duty of being the executor of his estate. According to Thornton's will, $20 million in cash will be deposited to the bank account of Susan Johnson when she turns 21. Johnson is the testator's 16-year-old daughter, who her mother's husband has legally adopted.
At 22, Johnson has yet to receive the money, and Lector could not account for Thornton's entire estate. Johnson decides to file an action in devastavit against Lecter, who, as the executor, will have to explain what happened to the estate. If Lecter fails to convince the court with his reasons, he will have to pay the entire value of the loss back to the estate, including the $20 million intended for Johnson, using his own money.
Significance of Devastavit
The principle of devastavit is to bring to justice executors who take their duties for granted, or worse, taking advantage of the authority placed upon them by testators or the court to further their gain. In most cases, when a person files a devastavit claim, it is done with many other administrative actions or actions intended to correct or punish an executor for their mistakes in administering the estate.
In the end, the real power of devastavit is in the limitation period it comes with. Civil cases usually have time limits, which often begin when the estate damage was done and can drag on as per the circumstances of a case. This means a plaintiff will plenty of time to take action against the erring executor.