Appointing a friend or family member as executor of your will puts them under legal and administrative burdens for which they might not thank you. A High Court case which set sister against brother in a dispute over family money revealed the clear advantages of instructing a professional to perform the task.
By his will, a man left the whole of his estate to his stepdaughter and appointed her and her son as his executors. In practice, that task was left to the son to perform alone. The stepfather’s main asset was his home, which was sold after his death, yielding net proceeds of over £465,000. When the stepdaughter also died, she left all but her jewellery to her son and daughter equally. She appointed her son as her sole executor.
After the daughter received an inheritance from her mother of little more than £100,000, she launched proceedings against her brother. She sought an order requiring him to provide a detailed account of his administration of both their mother’s and the stepfather’s estates.
The son asserted that he had properly performed his obligations as executor and fully met the fiduciary duties he owed to his sister as a beneficiary of their mother’s estate. He argued that his sister in any event had no interest in the administration of the stepfather’s estate, of which she was not a beneficiary.
Ruling on the matter, the Court noted that the son appeared to have provided his sister with a careful and detailed account of his administration of their mother’s estate. There were, however, at the very least question marks over his administration of the stepfather’s estate. The proceeds of the property sale had been paid into a bank account held in the son’s name and had been almost entirely dissipated within a year.
The Court emphasised that, in the absence of further information, it was not in a position to make any findings of fault in respect of the son’s performance of his role as executor. It was perfectly possible that the contents of the bank account had been spent either by his mother, for her benefit or on her instructions.
On the other hand, the evidence currently available could be equally consistent with the son having appropriated significant sums from the stepfather’s estate which belonged to his mother. In those circumstances, the daughter had established a sufficient interest to justify an order in her favour requiring her brother to provide a complete account of his administration of the stepfather’s estate.