Should they stay or should they go? Removing an executor

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The recent case of Hudman -v- Morris contains a useful analysis of the factors which the Court will take into account in deciding whether or not to remove an executor.

Under the deceased’s will, he divided his estate between his five children appointing two of them to be the joint executors. The claimant (one of the executors) sought the removal of her brother (the other executor) but agreed to stand down herself if he was removed.

It was common ground that the siblings were completely estranged.  Previous Court of Protection proceedings whilst the deceased was still alive had already reduced the net estate by £100,000 to about £350,000.  As at the date of the hearing the total costs of the removal proceedings were nearly £125,000.

Having considered the witness statement evidence, the judge decided that the defendant’s intense and ill-founded hostility towards his siblings and his previous conduct in relation to the Court of Protection proceedings showed that the proper and effective administration of the estate would be threatened if he continued in post.  There was he found a “wholesale breakdown of relations between the defendant and his siblings” such that he could not be trusted to act fairly and conscientiously to administer the estate impartially in the interests of all the beneficiaries.

The decision to appoint an independent administrator was taken notwithstanding that this was a relatively small and simple estate and that the remaining steps needed to complete the administration were relatively straightforward.

Although the beneficiaries have no absolute right to demand the removal or substitution of an executor (because the court has to make a balanced judgment as to what is in the interests of the beneficiaries as a whole) the fact that the majority of the beneficiaries wish to get rid of an executor is a weighty and important factor. The court found that the cost of involving an independent professional administrator to carry out the remaining tasks would be dwarfed by the parties’ costs in the removal proceedings.

In circumstances where it is joint executors who have fallen out then the appointment of a genuinely independent and ideally professional administrator is usually the clear and obvious solution to breaking the deadlock.

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The information given here is intended for general information purposes only and should not be taken as legal advice.

For specific guidance relevant to your situation, please contact our contentious probate specialist Paul Grimwood by calling 01895 207859 or emailing paul.grimwood@ibblaw.co.uk.