Executor & Beneficiary Disputes
Are you named as a beneficiary in a Will or are you entitled under the Intestacy Rules (when someone dies without a will) to a share of someone’s estate? Are you having difficulties with the executor about administering the estate?
Or perhaps you are an executor trying to press forward to administer an estate in line with your duties but a beneficiary is making life difficult for you and you need advice about what you should or should not do.
How Disputes Arise
Disputes between executors and beneficiaries often arise due to:
- Misunderstanding about the information a beneficiary is entitled to
- Disagreement as to the correct way to process the administration of the estate
- Delay in dealing with the estate
- Undervaluing assets, or selling assets at an undervalue
- Failure to be transparent and provide information
At Ridley and Hall, our specialist solicitors can provide you with practical and informative advice, whether in your capacity as a beneficiary or an executor.
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Frequently Asked Questions
It is their job to collect all the assets and money due to the deceased, pay off any debts (including the funeral bill) and taxes and then distribute the net estate (ie. what’s left) according to the terms of the Will or the intestacy rules.
A personal representative (PR) must make all reasonable enquiries to obtain information about the deceased’s estate.
A PR may rely on information provided by the beneficiaries to ascertain what assets and liabilities the deceased had, for example, bank account details.
Beneficiaries are entitled to limited information about a deceased’s estate. Essentially, you are entitled to information which demonstrates that the estate is being administered correctly either under the terms of a Will, or the rules of intestacy.
If an estate is not administered properly, as a beneficiary you may have a right to bring a claim.
You should receive:
- A copy of the Will and subsequent grant of representation
- Information regarding the value of the estate.
- Copies of the estate accounts (the ‘monies in’ and ‘monies out’)
Accounts should be provided on an interim basis and final estate accounts should be distributed shortly before you receive your share of the inheritance. Interim accounts should be provided annually as a minimum.
Once the estate is ready for distribution, the PR should send final estate accounts to each beneficiary; all residuary beneficiaries should sign and approve the estate accounts before the estate is distributed. You should provide a receipt to the PR once you have received your share.
As a beneficiary you may want further information or documentation, for example copies of letters or other evidence of how the PR has managed the estate. A beneficiary has no entitlement as of right to such documentation – it is at the PR’s discretion to disclose any requested information.
You can request certain documentation or information from a PR. A PR should usually consider the following in deciding whether to allow your request:
- The nature of the beneficiary’s interest
- The information the beneficiary is requesting
- The reasons for the request for information
- Whether the information may be confidential (e.g. relevant to one beneficiary but not another)
- The cost to the estate of providing the information
There are no rules which allow you information as of right; it will depend on the circumstances.
A PR can only act on agreed instructions from all the beneficiaries. In many instances, beneficiaries will come to an agreement to change the will (often for tax reasons) between themselves. As long as all the beneficiaries agree, it’s possible to enter into a deed of variation which allows for a PR to administer the estate in the new terms agreed under the deed.
If there is no agreement, a PR may sometimes need to apply to court to seek advice on how best to proceed.
A dispute could occur, for example, if one beneficiary wants a property to be sold, but another beneficiary lives in the property and doesn’t want it sold.
In all litigation disputes between beneficiaries, a PR should remain neutral throughout the dispute.
Administering an estate can take time; it makes sense that the more complicated someone’s estate is, or the more assets they have, the longer it will take to collect in all the assets before distribution.
On some occasions, an executor may be doing nothing. They could for example, delay in obtaining a grant, or delay administering the estate.
Although there is no set rule, generally it’s not unreasonable for beneficiaries to ask searching questions after about a year if it looks like nothing is being done.
A Will appoints an executor. In some situations, the beneficiaries may not want that person to deal with the estate. In others, it may simply not be practical for that person to do the job.
An executor is able to “renounce” (stand down), as long as they have not ‘intermeddled’ in the estate (ie. they haven’t carried out any of their jobs as an executor).
If there is more than one person named as an executor, they may have power reserved to them, so that they effectively take a step back and allow the other executor to deal with the administration, whilst not giving up any of their powers as an executor.
In some circumstances, an executor may refuse to renounce (or may have already dealt with the estate and so cannot renounce) but may still refuse to co-operate. In these circumstances, an application to court may be necessary to force the removal of an executor and appoint an alternative executor. The court will only take this action as a last resort; not just because the parties do not get on.
Ridley & Hall’s Contentious Probate department have dealt with many cases of disputes regarding an estate. We act for both executors and beneficiaries and can offer sensible, practical advice.