Executor Disputes and Problems with Estate Administration
When someone dies, the person handling the estate must ensure the correct process is followed and that this is done in a timely fashion. Any delays or questions over the conduct of an executor (if there is a Will) or estate administrator (if there is no Will) will need to be addressed promptly. Executors and estate administrators are collectively known as ‘personal representatives or PRs for short’.
Where the beneficiaries are concerned that the estate is not being administered properly or that the person dealing with the estate is acting improperly, it can be difficult to know how best to deal with this. Beneficiaries are often confused about their rights and may be keen to avoid conflict, especially if the executor or estate administrator is a member of the family.
At IBB Law, our Contentious Probate team has exceptional specialist expertise in dealing with executor disputes, executor fraud and other problems with personal representatives and estate administration. We act both for beneficiaries with concerns as well as executors and estate administrators who need to answer such concerns.
Our team can advise you on issues such as:
- Delays in probate and estate administration
- Executor and estate administrator negligence
- Executor or estate administrator fraud
- Removing the executor of a Will or an estate administrator
- Will trust disputes
- Appointing IBB Law as independent estate administrators
We work with a wide range of clients from all backgrounds, with particular experience in disputes related to high value estates, including those involving complex issues, such as international considerations.
We will work with you to find an amicable outcome wherever possible. In many cases, executor disputes can be resolved voluntarily through methods such as constructive negotiation and mediation, saving everyone involved time, money and stress.
Should court proceedings be required, our team can advise you on the likely outcomes and the costs involved. We can then provide expert representation, giving you the best chance of securing the outcome you seek.
Looking for immediate advice on an executor dispute or problem with estate administration?
Our expertise with executor disputes and executor fraud
IBB Law has supported a wide range of clients with executor disputes, accusations of executor fraud and estate administration problems for many years. With our experience and sensible, sensitive but firm approach, we have earned a reputation for achieving favourable results under even the most challenging circumstances.
Our Wills and Probate team have achieved the Law Society’s Wills & Inheritance Quality accreditation, reflecting our strong expertise in this area of law.
Our contentious probate specialists, Amanda Melton and Paul Grimwood, are both longstanding members of The Association of Contentious Trust and Probate Specialists (ACTAPS).
Amanda has been recognised by the Legal 500 for her expertise in handling contentious probate disputes, in particular, the way she “combines exceptional professional knowledge with strong interpersonal skills” and for her “straight-talking approach and honesty”.
Paul is also an ADR Group Accredited Mediator (and as of 2020 Online Mediator) and is registered with The Civil Mediation Council. Paul’s mediation expertise allows him to help clients to resolve executor and estate administration disputes faster and at a lower cost, without the stress and often unwanted publicity of court proceedings.
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How our team can help with executor disputes & problems with estate administration
Most executors and estate administrators are not professionals and will have limited, if any, experience with administering estates and related matters. This can lead to delays, simply because the personal representative does not understand what they need to do, they are overwhelmed by the task, or they have made mistakes that have caused progress to be held up.
In a simple case, probate might only take a few months if the executor makes it a priority to deal with all the paperwork as quickly as possible. A timescale of 6 months to a year is more usual, but particularly complicated estates can take a year or more.
If you are a beneficiary and feel things are dragging on, it may help to understand what can cause delays so you can try to determine whether any delay is outside of these common issues.
Complications can include:
- Difficulties identifying all of the assets and liabilities, for example, if the deceased lived on their own and did not keep clear records
- Problems relating to financial issues such as if the deceased was a beneficiary of a trust or had made significant gifts during the seven years prior to death
- Delays or difficulties obtaining valuations, where assets are held overseas, or there may be assets such as private company shares which are not straightforward to value
- Disputes concerning who is entitled to claim against the estate
- Difficulties in finding beneficiaries
In most cases, concerns over delays in obtaining probate and estate administration can be resolved swiftly with the right professional intervention and assistance. Depending on the situation, the executor may simply need some support or it may be more suitable for an independent professional to take over the estate administration.
Our team will be happy to advise beneficiaries and executors on dealing with delays in probate and estate administration, and, where required, we are able to take over the process to help get things back on track.
Mistakes made by the person administering an estate can be very serious as they can hold up progress, result in additional costs and, in the worst case scenario, have the potential to devalue the estate’s assets.
If the executors are not professionals, the legal duty and expectation on them is not as high as if they were professionals. A certain amount of leeway would be likely to be given in the case of any claims for negligence. However, an executor would be expected to demonstrate a basic level of competence, such as ensuring that the value of any assets is preserved (such as maintaining building insurance on a property) during the estate administration.
If you are a beneficiary and have reason to be concerned about the competence of the executor(s) or estate administrators, there may be ways you can seek to avoid the situation getting worse.
It may be that a tactful approach is needed, communicating with the executor(s) to offer help or suggesting that the executor(s) use professional advice to help with the estate administration (which can be funded from the estate).
In many cases, it may be that the executor(s) will be relieved to be unburdened because, once an executor accepts an appointment and starts the process, they cannot simply resign.
Probate fraud seems to be on the increase and is estimated to cost at least £150 million a year in the UK. The difficulty with suspected fraud is that, by the time it has been discovered, any assets may have been transferred or money spent.
Consequently, before beginning a civil action for fraud, the prospects of making a recovery should be carefully considered as there is little point suing someone if they no longer have the means to pay any judgement.
We have the experience to be able to assist in investigating suspected fraud. It needs to be handled very carefully and strategically but, once it appears that there has been actual fraud, rapid and determined action is often necessary.
Where there are serious concerns about the conduct of an executor, it may be necessary to have them removed and replaced by an independent, professional estate administrator.
If a beneficiary is unsure of an executor’s actions, they can initially write to the executor asking them for an account of the administration of the estate. If the beneficiary is still dissatisfied with the executor’s explanation, they can apply to the court to remove or substitute the executor.
Reasons for the court, to remove a personal representative include if they:
- Have a criminal conviction
- Are incapable of carrying out the role e.g. due to mental disability which is preventing them from performing their duties
- Are unsuitable to carry out the role e.g. due to a conflict of interest or they have fallen out with all of the beneficiaries
- Have inexcusably refused to provide accounts or complete the estate administration
We can advise on the process for having a personal representative removed and take over as professional estate administrators, giving you confidence that the estate will be administered correctly going forward.
Many Wills set up trusts, and it is not unusual for the executors of the Will to also be appointed as the trustees. The existence of a trust may cause delays in the Will administration process, creating conflict. There can also be disputes over how the trust is administered once it has been created.
Our team have very strong experience with trust disputes, with this being a particular specialism of the firm. We can provide clear, effective guidance on your rights and what you need to do to avoid a dispute escalating (where possible) and achieve the best outcome for the beneficiaries of the estate and the trust.
Find out more about our trust disputes expertise.
Where an executor is unable to handle the administration of an estate or has acted improperly, our team are able to step in and take over the administration of the estate. We can ensure that any problems that have occurred are swiftly resolved, complete the administration of the estate and get the bequests from the estate distributed as quickly as possible.
We regularly act as independent professional estate administrators for all types of estates, including those that are complex and high value, so you can be sure that everything will be handled properly once our team are involved.
Find out more about appointing IBB Law as independent estate administrators.
Time limits for executor disputes & executor fraud
The executor of a Will is placed in a position of trust and failing to meet the requirements of their role may be considered a ‘breach of trust’. There are strict time limits for taking action over a breach of trust so it is a good idea to act promptly.
If an executor has acted fraudulently, however, then there is no time limit for taking action against them.
To find out more about time limits for executor disputes, please get in touch.
Our executor dispute resolution pricing
The costs involved in dealing with an executor dispute will depend entirely on the circumstances. This includes how complex the issues are and how willing the parties involved are to come to an agreement on a solution.
We always aim to be transparent with our pricing, so will be happy to discuss the likely costs involved at the outset. This will include a clear breakdown of our rates and any expenses that may be incurred as part of the process of resolving an executor dispute.
For more information on the costs associated with contesting a Will and other contentious probate matters, please get in touch.
Get tailored advice for dealing with an executor dispute or executor fraud claim
The information given here is intended for general information purposes only and should not be taken as legal advice.