Executors need to undertake a number of duties to the estate, primarily around the assets of the estate. However, this can often leed to a number of disputes.
Who are executors?
Executors are people appointed to act by the Will of a deceased person. Executors can sometimes also be referred to as Personal Representatives although this term has a wider meaning. Executors owe a number of duties to the estate. Primarily, executors are required to call in all assets of the estate, pay all liabilities on behalf of the estate (such a funeral costs and credit card debts) and then distribute the balance in accordance with the Will.
Disputes between Executors
Up to 4 executors can obtain a grant of probate. Anyone can be named as an executor under a will. Executors can come from all walks of life. For example, close relatives are often executors. Sometimes a Will appoints a professional (such as a solicitor in a law firm or an accountant). Other executors can include friends and neighbours. Disagreements about how to deal with certain assets can arise and there can frequently be conflict between close relatives and others. This can be particularly difficult because all executors must agree to the decisions taken.
Most disagreements can be resolved easily. In situations where a resolution cannot be reached, the court can intervene.
Disputes between Executors and beneficiaries
Executors understand that beneficiaries under a Will are keen to ensure that the estate is being handled correctly, and in a timely fashion. Executors generally must deal with the administration of the estate within 12 months from the grant of probate although in some complex situations this may need to be longer (for example where there are complicated property transactions). Interest can accrue due to a beneficiary who has not received their entitlement under a will after 12 months.
Executors can be personally liable to beneficiaries in certain circumstances, for example where they knew of a potential claim against the estate by the executor (perhaps under the Inheritance Act 1975) but distributed too soon and the estate no longer has the money to pay any award.
Early advice should be sought by beneficiaries who think they might want to challenge the decision of the executors, or where they are taking too long to deal with an estate, or if a beneficiary feels they have a claim against the estate for a larger share. Time limits apply to bring such claims which cannot easily be avoided. A claim out of time cannot proceed.
Disputes between Executors and Trustees
Some Wills can create trusts (called Will Trusts). For example, where there is a pot of money at the end which is distributed amongst a number of people. Usually the Executors will become trustees of that pot of money and distribute it in accordance with the Will Trust. Where a beneficiary is a child, that money must be held by the trustees until the child reaches a set age (usually 18, 21 or 25). Some trusts create more complicated trusts and appoint other people to act as trustees. Occasionally, issues arise between Executors and Trustees. Again, in these cases, the court can intervene.
Disputes between Executors and those seeking to make a claim against the estate
Executors owe a duty to carry out the wishes of the deceased in accordance with the terms of the Will. Occasionally, a disappointed beneficiary may seek to bring a claim against the estate. In that case, the Executors should normally remain neutral otherwise if they defend any subsequent claim, they risk having to pay the legal fees of the successful party. However, that does not necessarily mean they should take no further action until the matter is resolved. There may be debts of the estate which would accrue interest (mortgage, funeral expenses and credit card debts for example).
Executors who have received notification of a possible claim against the estate should take immediate independent legal advice to put themselves in the best possible position.
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