16 Jan 2015
Over the past few years there has been a growing trend towards executors of wills choosing to administer estates themselves, rather than seeking professional assistance. Of the 255k probate applications in 2013, nearly 100K were made on a DIY basis.
When someone dies with a valid will, the executors named have a duty to administer the estate. In simple terms this means gathering in all the deceased’s assets, settling any debts and distributing the balance according to the provisions of the will.
With increased access to information and online help, more executors are opting to attempt the administration on their own, rather than seek professional advice. A great incentive in these austere times is the perceived saving in fees.
In the same time frame, the number of cases brought at the High Court for the mishandling of estates has tripled. Most claims arise due to DIY executors’ ignorance of the law but many are challenges to fraudulent distributions of assets and theft from estates.
Robert Butler, partner and senior contentious probate solicitor at Gard & Co., confirmed the trend, “Gard & Co. has seen a large increase in the number of disputed probates in the past few years. We are finding beneficiaries, those due to receive the assets of an estate, increasingly concerned by executors’ handling of estates. With no professional involved in the administration they are worried that nobody is policing the actions of the executors, which creates an atmosphere of suspicion.”
When pressed for details of the types of claims being made, Mr Butler was unable to give specifics because of client confidentiality. He was able to reveal that, “Gard & Co. has been involved in many cases recently, acting on behalf of beneficiaries to make applications to force executors to disclose details of an estate or to be made to act in a certain way. Although rare, we have seen cases where executors have been making fraudulent distributions of assets or stealing from the estate.”
It is likely that the number of DIY probate applications will continue to rise and more people will find themselves as beneficiaries with none professional executors administering the estate. Mr Butler advises, “If you are a beneficiary under a will and feel that the estate is not being dealt with properly you should seek legal advice. Equally, if you are an executor struggling with administration you may need assistance. Many solicitors now offer fixed fee probate, so you know the cost to the estate from the outset. This will be considerably less than the cost of a claim.”