According to figures released by the High Court, claims relating to the mishandling of estates have more than tripled over the past year with 368 claims for breach of fiduciary duty being lodged in 2013 (up from only 107 in 2012).
It is thought that the rise in the number of claims is attributable to the increase in people appointing friends or family members to act as their executors when they make a Will. Whilst the testator may think that appointing a non-professional will be cheaper and save the estate from professional fees; in many cases, more financial loss is caused to the estate and/or the beneficiaries as a result of the actions taken by the non-professional executor and the legal costs involved trying to obtain their removal and for them to make good the loss caused.
As a solicitor specialising in Disputed Wills, Trust and Probate, I have also seen an increase in the number of enquiries involving the actions of executors and estates being mishandled over recent months. Examples of the types of complaints I hear about in relation to executors include the following:
- theft of assets from the estate;
- using estate funds for their own personal benefit;
- fraudulently making increased distributions from the estate to favour certain beneficiaries (such as themselves or members of their immediate family);
- failing to administer the estate properly and within a timely manner;
- failing to preserve and protect the assets of the estate;
- refusing to distribute the estate to the beneficiaries in accordance with the Will;
- selling assets of the estate at an undervalue; and
- charging the estate for their time when, as non-professional executors, they have no right to do so.
Whilst in some cases a Court claim is the only option, many claims can be prevented if problems are picked up at an early stage. Methods of alternative dispute resolution such as mediation and negotiation between the parties by correspondence can result in disputes being resolved at a much lower cost. The key is to act quickly.
If you have concerns about how the estate of a family member or friend is being dealt with or the actions of an executor, please feel free to contact Louise Dodds of Clarion’s Disputed Wills, Trust and Probate team for an initial chat on 0113 246 0622 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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