FAQ’s – Defending an Estate

Should I instruct a local solicitor?

You don’t have to have a solicitor who is local to you.  We act for clients throughout England and Wales and mostly it’s possible for us to get either on a train or drive to meet with you; we will only charge for our meeting time with you (and consideration of any documents). If that’s not possible skype can be really helpful for discussions, especially if there’s more than one of you.  At Ridley & Hall we use email and telephone calls as well as texts; whatever method of communication best suits you and ensures that the case stays on track.  So there’s no reason not to ask us to help you!

How much will it cost to defend a claim and who pays?

If you are an executor of the estate then you must remain neutral in any dispute but you may still need a solicitor to represent you. If so your costs will almost always be met by the estate at the end of the case so long as you have behaved reasonably.  If you are a beneficiary as well as an executor and you are defending the claim then your costs will not necessarily be paid by the estate, so it’s really important that you get advice about the merits of the claim as soon as possible.

Even if the estate is fairly small legal costs can quickly escalate and if proceedings are issued at court the costs of each party are not likely to be any less than £20,000 each.  If you’re defending a claim and you cannot enter into a no win no fee agreement you may have an insurance policy that will pay for you to be represented or you may need to pay your costs personally; we can talk you through all the options. 

Are there any deadlines I need to be aware of as an executor?

If you have taken out a grant of probate and more than 6 months have passed then it’s unlikely (though not impossible) that a claim can be brought against the estate by a disappointed beneficiary under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.  It will certainly be a lot more difficult for someone to bring a challenge under that Act after the deadline has passed as they need the court’s permission.  There are no deadlines in relation to contentious probate proceedings (where the validity of a will is being challenged) so claims can be brought at any time – but in practice if the estate has been distributed it’s very unlikely that a challenge can be successfully brought.  So it’s sensible to administer the estate as quickly as you can – but usually not before 6 months from the grant has expired.

A beneficiary is making unreasonable demands; what can I do?

Beneficiaries can be very demanding – they have no entitlement or right to documents in relation to your management of the deceased’s estate.  You should usually consider the following factors in deciding whether or not to grant a request for information from a beneficiary:-

1.     The nature of their interest.

2.     The information they are requesting.

3.     The reasons for the request for the information.

4.     Whether the information may be confidential (eg relevant to one beneficiary but not another).

5.     The cost to the estate of providing the information.

You should provide, if requested, a copy of the will and grant of probate, together with information about the value of the estate.  You may be asked to provide interim estate accounts (setting out the monies in and monies out) and again usually it’s sensible to provide this information on request.  If there is likely to be a dispute, you should set out your decision making in writing and seek to act in a fair and impartial manner.

What is a summons and inventory for account?

If a beneficiary is not satisfied about the information you have provided them with in relation to the administration of the estate they can issue a summons at a probate registry requiring you to attend before a Probate Registrar and to provide a sworn affidavit setting out your dealings with the estate.  You should take any threat to issue a summons seriously because a costs order could be made against you if you fail to respond or to attend before the Registrar.  An unsatisfactory response or a failure to respond could lead to an application to remove you as an executor.

What are my responsibilities as an executor?

It is your responsibility to collect all of assets and money due to the deceased, pay any debts (including the funeral bill) and taxes and then to distribute the net estate according to the terms of the will – or the intestacy rules.

You must make all reasonable enquiries to obtain information about the deceased’s estate.  You can rely on information provided by beneficiaries to ascertain the assets and liabilities of the deceased.  If you are in any doubt about your responsibilities you should seek advice from a qualified wills and probate solicitor; Jill Waddington and Vicky Maude are experts at Ridley & Hall and can advise you

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  • I can’t thank you enough for the way the claim was handled. After being in the accident, the thought of making a claim seemed like a lengthy and quite daunting procedure to take on, but you were really helpful and communication was brilliant throughout the whole thing. There was never a point where I felt confused or left in the dark about anything that was unfolding with the claim and the way you handled things was amazing! A cyclist who was involved in an accident with a motorist.  Samantha Hirst at Ridley and Hall successfully negotiated a settlement with the motorist’s insurance company.

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