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High Court figures show claims for Mishandling of a Will triple

1st August, 2014

Figures from the High Court show that 368 claims were lodged last year for mishandling deceased’s estates up from 107 claims in the previous 12 months.

The claims ranged from theft of assets by the executors appointed to administer the estate to distributing the estate to favour certain beneficiaries over others.

One of the benefits of appointing a professional such as a solicitor as executor is that they ought to be impartial and will see that the terms of the deceased’s will are upheld. Where a family member is appointed there may be a temptation to seek to act in a way that benefits them or there may be family dynamics that give rise to a temptation not to treat all of the beneficiaries impartially.

The modern family structure, which often involves unmarried partners and step children, brings its own unique issues to estate administration, particularly where there are substantial assets involved. Good family relations cannot always be guaranteed following a death and there can often be feelings of entitlement that do not necessarily reflect the deceased‘s final wishes as set out in their will. This can lead to assets being hidden or secretly given away, particularly in the case of personal items such as jewellery, which can be hard to recover once they have been erroneously distributed.

In other cases, a squeeze on disposable income combined with increases in the cost of living has meant that for some executors the temptation to make a little extra from a deceased’s estate is simply too great to resist. Unless beneficiaries have access to information about the deceased’s assets it can be difficult to prove that the executor has not acted honestly and this is when the court can become involved.

The important message for those making wills is to think carefully about who they are appointing as their executors. Anyone taking on the role should be trustworthy, financially secure and not in conflict with any of the proposed beneficiaries. If such a person cannot be found then the appointment of a professional executor can, in some cases, be the best solution.

Where beneficiaries do have concerns about the way in which an estate is being administered it is important that they seek legal advice as soon as possible. The court can make orders to protect assets if appropriate and can replace the acting executor if legitimate concerns as to their actions are raised.

For more information on making a will or appointing an executor please contact James Wallace on 01244 405594 or email [email protected].

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