Being appointed as an executor under the terms of someone’s will is often an onerous and difficult task. There is very often an awful lot of paperwork to deal with and administrative issues to sort out including:
It is no wonder therefore that many executors who are appointed often engage the assistance of a probate lawyer to help with the estate administration. This of course comes at a cost and the estate is liable for any professional fees.
However, sometimes problems can arise if a person decides to act solely in their role and either does not understand what their duties are, takes too long to deal with the matter or simply fails to do what is required of them leaving the estate and beneficiaries in limbo. That said, sometimes issues can even arise with professional executors or administrators if beneficiaries feel they are taking too long, causing unnecessary delay or failing to provide information and update when requested as well as carrying out necessary consultation with beneficiaries in respect of valuations etc.
It is quite common for beneficiaries to become impatient or frustrated if it seems an estate is taking too long to be administered or they are not being kept in the loop. An executor should be afforded such reasonable time as is necessary to administer an estate and even a simple estate comprising of say, a property and a bank account, can take anything between six to twelve months to deal with. More complex estates that have multiple assets, complex will terms or inheritance tax issues can take much longer. It is therefore important that executors try and keep beneficiaries updated regularly so there is transparency – this will also avoid beneficiaries “hounding” an executor for answers.
However, if an executor is refusing to engage with you, not dealing with the estate and providing no update then that is an issue. Executors have a legal duty under Section 25 of the Administration of Estates Act 1925 (the “1925 Act”) to collect and get in the real and personal estate and administer this according to law which means to ensure that the estate is distributed in accordance with the intestacy rules or any will.
In addition, an executor also owes a duty to safeguard the estate assets and act in the best financial interests of all of the beneficiaries. They must preserve the assets of the estate for the benefit of the beneficiaries which includes maintaining any estate property and ensuring maintenance, repair and upkeep of the property is to such a standard that would not reduce the value of the property.
An Executor owes a duty to account for his or her actions and to keep beneficiaries informed in respect of any decisions that they make concerning the estate assets that they are due to benefit from and to ensure that an account is provided in respect of the progress with the administration of both estates.
As executor cannot and should not take decisions relating to the estate assets solely or in a manner that benefits them alone. This includes arranging the sale or transfer of estate assets, without consultation with beneficiaries or retaining property for their own sole use and benefit.
If you are experiencing problems with an executor or have concerns they are not carrying out their duties as they should be, you should seek your own independent legal advice. A strongly worded legal letter setting out their duties and obligations is quite often enough to encourage an executor to either do what they should do in respect of the estate or seek legal assistance if they are struggling with the administration.
Should an executor continue to be non-compliant with their duties then an application can be made to Court for their removal and replacement with a more suitable person to allow the estate administration to be finalised.