Is a beneficiary entitled to estate accounts?

Is a beneficiary entitled to estate accounts?

Inheritance lawyer, Naomi Ireson, looks at the circumstances in which a beneficiary can demand to see estate accounts and what the consequences are for an executor who refuses.

Master Matthews, sitting in the High Court in the case of Royal National Lifeboat Institution & Ors v Headley & Anor [2016] EWHC 1948 (Ch) has given much needed clarification of the legal position governing a beneficiary’s entitlement to receive estate accounts.

Historically, case law from the late 1990’s suggested that "every beneficiary is entitled to see the trust accounts" (see Armitage v Nurse) and that trust accounts and other documents must be disclosed to all beneficiaries on demand, save in exceptional circumstances (as in the case of she Schmidt v Rosewood Trust).

Master Matthews found in the RNLI case that the charity beneficiaries did indeed have every right to see the accounts in so far as they were applicable to them.

This was a case where the deceased, Evelyn Farmer, had appointed Headleys Solicitors as her executors when she died in January 1996.  Her Will dated 10 August 1993 created two life interests for adult beneficiaries (her son and daughter-in-law) with the remainder passing to ten named charities.  The charities were therefore the remainder man and understandably requested sight of final estate accounts.

However, having asked the executors’ solicitors for over 10 years to provide those accounts, they were never produced.  In 2007 provisional estate accounts were provided but that was the last piece of information they received for many years.

In 2014 the charities instructed solicitors who attempted to obtain the estate accounts without success.  Litigation then commenced in February 2016 and was heard by Master Matthews in July 2016.  The executors failed to attend.  One executor had died and the remaining one simply ignored the litigation.  He was ordered to provide the estate accounts to the charities and required to pay the charities’ costs in full, without the right to claim them back from the estate.  Those costs stood at approximately £8,000.

You can also read the full judgement at the link below.

If you are a beneficiary of an estate and are having difficulty in obtaining estate accounts, we would be happy to help. You can contact us on 01823 354545.