Statistics released by the High Court confirm that the number of claims against executors has trebled in the past year. Contentious Probate Solicitor, Lee Dawkins, reports on the rise of executor disputes.
Legal claims against executors and administrators are on the rise. Allegations of fraudulent distribution of assets, theft of estate assets and executors favouring one beneficiary over another are now taking up an increasing amount of judicial time.
This trend coincides with an increase in the number of people handling estates themselves, rather than instructing Solicitors to undertake the administration. Many DIY executors think that by dealing with probate themselves they are saving the estate money. However, administering an estate is not always as straightforward as it seems and DIY administration can be a false economy.
When an executor dispute occurs the legal costs will escalate and quickly dwarf the costs that would have been incurred had the estate been professionally administered at the outset.
It’s particularly important for executors to appreciate that claims can arise when the executor hasn’t knowingly done anything wrong. Executors can quite innocently misinterpret the provisions of a will or misunderstand the application of the rules of intestacy, thereby sowing the seeds of a potentially expensive executor dispute.
We find that executors can sometimes be tempted to use their discretion rather than following the terms of a Will; ‘doing the right thing’, as they see it. They may have the very best intentions and think they are being fair (for instance by ensuring that the deceased’s assets are retained by their own family) but of course their actions are likely to amount to a breach of trust. The executors duty is to execute the will in accordance with the law, not make moral judgements about what the will should have provided or what they think the testator really intended.
Other DIY executors might be more cynical, motivated by greed and a desire to benefit themselves.
Either way, this conduct isn’t acceptable and the executor will soon find themselves before a court, facing personal liability for any losses or costs the estate has incurred.
It’s therefore no surprise that many take the view that DIY probate is more trouble than it’s worth and simply instruct a solicitor to administer the estate. However, we expect this upward trend in executor disputes to continue and anticipate receiving an increasing number of enquiries from worried executors and distressed beneficiaries.
If you find yourself involved in an executors dispute and require specialist advice then email us at [email protected] or give us a call on 0808 139 1596