Executor disputes and removing an executor from office
Executor disputes are very common. We are often consulted by beneficiaries who are in dispute with an executor, or executors who are in dispute with a fellow executor. In most cases they want to know if they can remove an executor from office.
The role of an executor
Before dealing with that question, we should start by explaining that an executor is someone appointed under a Will to administer a deceased person’s estate. The term ‘administrator’ is used when there is no valid Will and the intestacy provisions apply. Executors and administrators are known as personal representatives, or PRs. We will use the term ‘executor’ to apply to both for the purposes of this article.
Most executors deal with the task honourably and in good faith. However, executors do occasionally abuse their position or act unreasonably, causing prejudice to the beneficiaries. When executor disputes arise, court proceedings should generally be a last resort. We recommend that you try to resolve things through correspondence in the first instance. Remind the executor of their legal duties and obligations and advise them of the consequences of failing to cooperate. Point out that if court proceedings are necessary then you will seek a costs order against them. The costs of an application to remove an executor can amount to as much as £20,000 if contested, sometimes more, so this often brings even the most stubborn executor to their senses.
Removing an executor
When an executor is unwilling to conduct the administration of an estate reasonably, an application can be made to the court to remove them. The application is made under s50 of the Administration of Justice Act 1985. Section 116 of the Senior Courts Act 1981 can be used to ‘pass over’ the executor if they haven’t yet been officially appointed.
The Court will not remove an executor unless there are compelling reasons to do so. Each case is different and we need to look at each one individually to assess whether there are likely to be sufficient grounds for the court to order removal.
It’s clear from previous court decisions that it isn’t enough simply to show that there is friction or hostility between the parties. The court will wish to consider whether the welfare of the beneficiaries is being prejudiced or if the relationship is having an adverse affect on the proper administration of the estate.
Evidence of improper conduct, particularly financial misconduct or dishonesty, will be taken into consideration, as will any conduct that has, or is likely to endanger trust property. Executors can also be removed where they have failed to administer the estate with due diligence or have been guilty of undue delay.
How we can help
We offer a free initial advice service. You can contact us for guidance by email or telephone.
We will always consider the most cost effective solution and set out the options available to you. The costs of any legal action should always be weighed against the likely benefit, and executor disputes are no exception. It is particularly important to ensure that the legal costs are not likely to be disproportionate, which can sometimes be an issue in estates that have a modest value.
We deal with executor disputes on a nationwide basis. If you are involved in an executor dispute as either an executor or a beneficiary then call us for a free initial case assessment, on 0908 139 1606 or send an email with brief details to [email protected].