Executor/beneficiary dispute; who you gonna call?

 In Contentious probate, Inheritance & will disputes, Sarah Young

My client, Paul, was locked in a bitter dispute with his sister Clare when he first came to see me in December 2016. His mother had died in 2013 and he was the executor of her will. Ever since then, his sister had fought with him about every aspect of their mother’s estate. Both instructed solicitors in London to act for them.

Incredibly, between 2013 and 2016, those solicitors incurred legal costs totalling £95,000. A property, which was the main asset of the estate was sold for £385,000; so almost 25% of the estate had already been spent on legal fees by the time I was approached.

Worse was to come; as a result of the complete mismanagement of the dispute by these solicitors, firstly a substantial interim payment was made to Clare which meant that she had no incentive to reach a settlement. Secondly, my client had been advised to provide an undertaking (a formal promise) to the conveyancing solicitors who dealt with the sale of his mother’s property, which meant that the proceeds of sale would be kept by them until the dispute was resolved. And thirdly, Paul’s solicitors in London refused to send me their file because they had unpaid bills!

Paul‘s responsibility as an executor was to prepare ‘estate accounts’; basically a schedule setting out all the monies that had come in and gone out of the estate, with a final balance of what was left (the net estate) to be divided between him and his sister.

Those accounts had to be approved by the Court; this was only way to break the deadlock between the siblings and enable the money to be released by the conveyancing solicitors. I agreed to act on a deferred fee basis as by this stage, Paul had no money left and was close to a breakdown because of the strain of the dispute.

I issued proceedings at Court under Part 64 of the Civil Procedure Rules in April 2017 and a final contested hearing took place in January 2018. The judge discharged the undertaking and approved the estate accounts; my client won. The solicitors who were holding the proceeds of sale were then able to release the funds to my client – and because of her conduct, his sister won’t get a penny more.

An unusual case; but at Ridley & Hall we thrive on challenges!

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Sarah Young

Sarah Young Director – Litigation