Executor Disputes Treble

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.

Legal claims against executors and administrators are on the rise. Allegations of fraudulent distribution of assets, theft of estate assets and 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 a 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.

Its particularly important for executors to appreciate that claims can even 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 dispute.

We find that lay 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 be a breach of trust. The executors duty is to execute the Will, 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.

Its 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 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 Lee Dawkins at lee.dawkins@sleeblackwell.co.uk

If you are looking for a Solicitor to professionally administer an estate then email Toni at toni.sinclair@sleeblackwell.co.uk or check out our fixed fee packages at www.fixedpriceprobatesolicitors.co.uk