Family relationships can be red in tooth and claw and appointing relatives, rather than a professional, as executors of your will can prove a costly mistake. That was certainly so in a case recently reviewed by Emma Walker, where bitter litigation between siblings resulted in legal costs bills totalling more than £200,000.
The case concerned a man who passed away in his early 90s having had dementia for some years. The effect of his very simple will was that his net estate, which was worth about £450,000, was to pass in equal shares to his four surviving children and one of his grandchildren. He appointed his daughter and one of his sons as his executors.
Prior to his death, the siblings were already engaged in litigation before the Court of Protection concerning supervision of his care, finances and other matters. The costs of those proceedings came to almost £100,000. The pattern continued after he died when his daughter applied for an order removing her brother from his role as executor. The costs of those proceedings totalled £123,702.
Granting the order sought, a judge noted that no findings of wrongdoing had been made against the son. However, his intense and ill-founded hostility to his siblings meant he could not be expected to display the reasonable, structured and objective approach that was vital to the proper and effective administration of the estate. His siblings were unanimous in supporting his removal.
Administering the estate should have been a straightforward matter and the fees that a solicitor would have charged to perform that role were dwarfed by the costs of the proceedings. After the daughter agreed to step aside, the judge directed the replacement of both family executors by a single professional who could be relied on to administer the estate sensibly and without further delay.
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