When a loved one dies, attending to the administration of their estate is lengthy, complex, and emotionally draining. What makes this even more difficult is when executors find themselves entangled either in disputes with other executors or in disputes with beneficiaries.

Disputes can arise for many reasons.

  1. Interpretation of the Will: Disputes can arise when there is ambiguous language in the will, leading to varying interpretations and disagreements over asset distribution.
  1. Perceived Unfairness: If beneficiaries believe the proposed distribution of the estate is unfair, tensions can quickly escalate.
  2. Rivalries: In cases where multiple family members are named as executors or beneficiaries, unresolved family tensions can escalate into legal disputes.
  3. Allegations of Mismanagement: Executors may face accusations of mismanagement or misappropriation of estate assets.
  4. Micromanagement: Executors can find themselves under intense scrutiny from a beneficiary. This can impact the estate administration and the due execution of their duties.
  5. Disagreements: Executors can have different views on how the administration should be approached. As they must act unanimously, a disagreement can result in an impasse that can seem impossible to break.
  6. Challenges to the Validity of the Will: If there are concerns about the validity of the will, a challenge may arise, and the Executors will be drawn into the legal dispute even if they wish to remain neutral.

Amy Read, Partner and head of the firm’s inheritance disputes team, is frequently instructed to assist in the administration of estates where disputes of varying natures have arisen. She believes that a proactive and strategic approach is the key to avoiding such disputes or disentangling them before the Court is forced to get involved.

Amy recommends:

  1. Open Communication: Executors should maintain open communication with beneficiaries and co-executors, ensuring that everyone is well-informed and understands the process.
  2. Accountability and Transparency: Executors must maintain meticulous records of all estate transactions and be transparent in their dealings to avoid any appearance of impropriety.
  3. Consultation: Where reasonable and appropriate, executors should consult with beneficiaries on major administrative decisions, such as whether an offer on a property should be accepted, whether an asset should be sold, or if it should be transferred to a beneficiary.
  4. Timely Probate Process: Executing the administration of the estate promptly can minimize opportunities for disputes and help beneficiaries receive their inheritance without unnecessary delays.
  5. Mediation: In cases where conflicts arise, consider mediation as an alternative dispute resolution method. A neutral third party can help facilitate constructive conversations and reach amicable solutions.
  1. Legal Assistance: Executors should seek the assistance of experienced private client lawyers who have the expertise to guide them through the process.

Dealing with estates with dispute-related complexities demands a delicate balance of legal acumen, empathy, and conflict resolution skills. When conflicts become complex and emotionally charged, seeking the right sort of legal representation becomes essential. Amy and members of her team have expertise not only in estate administration, but also in attending to litigation which can arise when someone passes away. The nuances of the world of contentious probate are such that a careful approach to these disputes is vital.

Amy has recently concluded a matter where a family conflict arose which meant that the estate administration could not be progressed. Both sides of the family sought legal advice and the firms they approached recommended the administration was placed with an independent specialist solicitor. They approached Amy in this regard, and she was delighted not only to bring the matter to a conclusion for the family swiftly and cost-effectively, but also to have received such warm feedback.

Amy, I would like to thank you very much for taking on this file in somewhat difficult circumstances and for the patient, considerate and professional way that you dealt with things throughout. You have greatly assisted us and our client to obtain a good result.”

Whether you are an Executor facing a challenging estate administration or a beneficiary concerned about the actions of the Executor, WBW can help. For an initial consultation please contact [email protected].

WBW Solicitors has offices in AxminsterBovey TraceyBrixhamChardExeterExmouthHonitonLauncestonNewton AbbotPaigntonSeatonSidmouth, and Torquay.

This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Please note that the law may have changed since this article was published.