A dispute may arise between the executors and beneficiaries because the executors may not be carrying out their duties efficiently or properly. Beneficiaries may feel that they are not being kept informed as to the estate administration or that they have not received what they are entitled to under the deceased’s will.

Who is an Executor?

An executor is a person who is appointed under a deceased’s will to administer their estate following their death. It is typical that at least two executors are chosen. If the deceased died intestate (i.e. without a valid will), these individuals are referred to as personal representatives.

What is an Executor’s role?

An executor has a number of responsibilities following the death of the deceased. These include:

  • Ensuring that the deceased’s property is made secure as soon as possible following their death;
  • Collecting in all of the deceased’s assets and any money that was due to them prior to their death;
  • Settling any outstanding taxes or debts owed by the deceased’s estate; and
  • Distributing the deceased’s estate to the people named as beneficiaries in their will, or if there is no will, to those entitled as per the intestacy rules.

Why do disputes arise?

It is possible that a dispute can arise when the executors and beneficiaries have differing ideas as to how the deceased’s estate should be administered. Each estate is very different and the level of complexity in respect of administration varies significantly.

The “Executor’s Year” is a common law rule that provides that executors usually have 12 months from the date of death to call in all of the deceased’s assets, settle the debts and liabilities, and distribute the net estate to the beneficiaries.

Unfortunately, sometimes the executors may not comply with their duties which can result in unreasonable delays to progressing the estate administration. If this happens, it is possible for the beneficiaries to consider making an application to the court for the executors’ removal. The court has the power to determine how the estate administration shall be dealt with going forwards, including appointing replacement executors, if this is necessary.

What are the typical concerns of beneficiaries?

Concerns usually arise when the beneficiaries are not kept informed or updated in respect of the estate administration. Other areas of concern which are likely to cause the beneficiaries to want to seek independent legal advice include:

  • The executors failing to distribute the estate in line with the deceased’s wishes;
  • The executors acting negligently which causes a financial loss to the estate;
  • The executors charging excessive fees;
  • The executors agreeing to sell the deceased’s assets at a deliberate undervalue;
  • The executors stealing or misusing estate assets;

Resolving concerns

It is always best to try and resolve any concerns between executors through a form of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). It is usual for ADR to take the form of a round table meeting to discuss concerns and negotiations or mediation.

If ADR is not appropriate or it is unsuccessful, it is possible to make an application to the court. The court has wide powers and can assist with remedying issues concerning the estate administration. These powers include, for example, providing the executors with directions in respect of how the administration should proceed. Alternatively, they have the power to hold the executors personally liable to reimburse the estate for any financial loss they have unreasonably caused by their actions.

We have experience representing executors faced with challenges or beneficiaries who have concerns about the actions of executors. Please contact a member of our team if you think we may be able to assist you.

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Culver Law, London
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0203 633 6226
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Culver Law, Cambridge
9 Hills Road
Cambridge
CB2 1GE
01223 653010

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