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Q&A: How should an Executor Respond to an Inheritance Claim?

by Ridley & Hall in Inheritance & will disputes, James Urquhart-Burton, Sarah Young posted October 30, 2023.
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The Starting Point: What is an Executor’s duty?

To effectively respond to a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, it’s crucial to grasp the legal duty binding all Executors and Administrators (in cases without a will). Section 25 of the Administration of Estates Act 1925 establishes your duty to collect, administer, and preserve the estate for the benefit of entitled individuals. This core duty should guide every decision made while acting as an Executor, including how to handle legal claims.

How should you approach an Inheritance Act claim?

At first glance, it may seem that your duty is to defend the claim in order to preserve the estate. However, this isn’t always the case, and adopting this stance can have serious consequences. Executors drawn into a dispute understandably want assurance that their legal costs will be covered by the estate. Ideally, this shouldn’t be an issue if an executor responds neutrally. However, failing to do so could result in a court order requiring the Executor to personally cover costs.

While an Executor must safeguard the estate’s assets, it’s important to note that a claim under the Inheritance Act doesn’t aim to diminish the estate’s assets. Instead, the claimant seeks a beneficial share (or an additional share) of the assets.

What are you responding to? Understanding the Claim: Pre-action Letter of Claim vs. Claim Form

Have you received a pre-action Letter of Claim or been served with a Claim Form? If you’ve received a formal Letter of Claim, it’s unlikely that court proceedings have been initiated. However, it signifies the potential for future legal action, making it an opportune time to seek legal advice.

It’s up to the beneficiaries of the estate to decide whether to defend the claim. Ensure they’re aware of the claim and provide them with a copy of the letter if they haven’t already received it. This allows them to respond promptly and seek their own legal advice.

If you choose to respond to the letter, remember to remain neutral. Be prepared to furnish the parties with information about the estate, enabling them to make informed decisions about resolving the claim or considering settlement.

If you’re served with a Claim Form, you’ll have 21 days to file and serve your Acknowledgement of Service and witness statement in response. The Practice Direction to the Civil Procedure Rules 1998, Part 57, paragraph 16 provides guidance on an Executor’s witness statement. The Executor’s witness statement must offer the necessary information for the court and other parties to comprehend the nature and extent of the estate, as well as the identities of those entitled to inherit it.

Exercise caution to maintain neutrality in your witness statement and all other communications. If you haven’t already, it’s strongly advised to seek independent legal advice to ensure your response to the claim is compliant and that you’re shielded from personal liability for costs.

But I’m a beneficiary as well as an Executor… What should I do?

As a beneficiary, you may be inclined to actively defend the claim, as it impacts your inheritance. Consider how the claim might affect your own financial needs. It’s common for executors to also be beneficiaries. You wear both “hats,” and if you’ve already obtained a Grant of Probate or been involved in the estate, you can’t escape the fact that you are an Executor. In this capacity, you must remain neutral to the claim, while also seeking to defend it as a beneficiary.

Navigating both roles when responding to an Inheritance Act claim can be challenging, and there’s no easy solution. Seeking specialist legal advice is invaluable. Clearly stating which “hat” you’re wearing in your communications can help prevent future complications.

Seeking Professional Advice for Contentious Probate Claims

It’s crucial to seek advice from a qualified solicitor regulated by the Solicitors Regulatory Authority, specialising in Inheritance Act claims. At Ridley & Hall, our specialist Contentious Probate Solicitors pride themselves on their straightforward approach, fair pricing for legal services, and extensive experience in dealing with Inheritance Act claims.

For assistance, contact us at 0800 860 62 65 or visit our website

James Urquhart Burton Headshot

James Urquhart Burton – Partner & Solicitor



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