Cases of executors breaching their duties, including stealing assets and distributing estates contrary to the deceased’s Will or the intestacy rules, have rocketed. Data from the Courts indicate that they have heard THREE TIMES more cases of this nature this year. Of course, these statistics include only recorded claims, many are settled long before they reach Court so the true extent of the problem is entirely unknown.
It is not compulsory to appoint a professional executor, the majority of estates are administered by family members or friends. Although lay executors can instruct a solicitor to assist them, many do not do so as they want to save the expense associated with this.
DIY estate administrations can have problems from one end of the scale – inadvertent errors by the executors – to the other end of the scale – estate funds being misappropriated.
What many people are unaware of is the true extent of their responsibilities and obligations when they take up their appointment as executor. Their duties are vast and cumbersome. Although some lay executors are able to work their way through the administration, many struggle and some breach their duties simply because they do not know what these are. This often leads to lay executors seeking legal assistance later down the line where they find the cost of correcting errors often far outweighs the expense which would have been incurred had the solicitor been instructed from the outset.
Unfortunately, many beneficiaries do not just find themselves with an executor who has innocently made an error in the administration – instead they have an executor who is uncommunicative, incompetent, or simply dishonest. The most common actions against executors include:-
- misappropriation – this occurs when an executor uses estate’s assets for their own benefit, or, fraudulently disposes of them for a profit;
- maladministration – where executors failure to discharge debts, sell estate assets at an undervalue or wrongly distribute the estate; and
- breach of trust – where an executor does not comply with their duties, for example, they fail to call in a debt owed to an estate.
Whilst it may appear to be cost effective for a family member or friend to act as executor, this may be a false economy if that friend or family member is simply not up to the job, or worse still, uses the estate for his or her own benefit.
WBW Solicitors are able to assist in many ways. Firstly, they are able and willing to be appointed as an executor allowing the burden of executorship to be placed in the hands of the professionals. Secondly, they are able to help lay executors in their role by providing advice and assistance in their administration of an estate. Thirdly, they have a specialist Contentious Probate team who are able to assist if you are that unfortunate beneficiary who finds themselves with a troublesome executor.