Following on from part four of our series on practical tips for Estate Administration, this blog discusses some steps Personal Representatives can take to ensure the smooth administration of an estate where matters are complicated by family disputes or possible claims on the estate.

Losing a loved one is an emotional time and a time when historic grievances can develop into disputes over the deceased’s wishes or feelings of ill-treatment regarding the provision the deceased has made for them.

Common Areas of Dispute

Over the years probate disputes and claims have increased. If a family member is disappointed with the provision made for them they can raise a claim to the Personal Representatives on a number of grounds including one or a combination of following;

    • Challenge the validity of the Will on the basis the deceased lack mental capacity or knowledge and approval of the terms of the Will. Additionally, it may be claimed the Will was made as a result of undue influence or fraud.  If the Will is found to be invalid on any of these grounds the provisions of any earlier Wills or the intestacy rules will govern the distribution of the estate, which can result in a more favourable position for the disappointed beneficiary.
    • Challenge the interpretation of any poorly drafted terms of the Will. If a clause in a Will is found to be uncertain in its terms it can fail and additional assets would then be available to the residual beneficiaries of an estate.
    • Bring a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. The Act allows for further provision to be made from the deceased’s estate. The court has discretion to alter the amounts received by certain beneficiaries.
    • Complaints as to the Personal Representatives handling of an estate, which can lead to an application to remove the Personal Representative. Such complaints can include allegations of delay, mismanagement of assets such as a failure to secure assets or achieve the best price and expenses claimed by the Personal Representative.

Costs of Contentious Probate Claims

The general rule for liability of costs in a contentious probate claim are that they are payable by the estate of the deceased. This includes both the costs of the successful party but also the costs of the unsuccessful party unless it can be shown that it was unreasonable on the merits for the claim to be brought.

It is not uncommon for the costs of contentious probate claims which make it to court to be upwards of £75,000-£100,000. Whilst only a small percentage of disputes make it to Court the costs can still be considerable even where the claim is settled at mediation.  Such disputes can greatly reduce the value of the estate available for distribution. To avoid the stress and costs involved with probate disputes it is important the Personal Representatives are aware of the possibility of disputes and ensure they manage the estate to reduce the likelihood of a claim arising or to limit the impact on the estate should a claim arise.

Tips for Personal Representatives  

    • Personal Representatives should remain neutral even where they are also a beneficiary of the estate. Where there are a number of Personal Representatives and they cannot co-operate the appointment of independent professionals to administer the estate on their behalf can save a lot of conflict over what needs to be done and prevent claims of mismanagement.
    • If disputes are likely, an Executor can also consider renouncing the right to apply for Probate or having power reserved to prevent conflicts.  This could allow another more independent Executor to administer the estate.
    • Personal Representatives should communicate openly and regularly with Beneficiaries. If a beneficiary is not receiving information about the administration of an estate they are likely to feel kept in the dark and more likely to make complaints regarding delays or mismanagement of the estate.
    • Where a family member is unhappy with provision made for them it is possible to enter into Deed of Variation if all affected beneficiaries agree to the redistribution. Professional advice should be sought if a Deed of Variation is being considered.

How can we help

We hope this guide has been helpful in identifying the steps to take to keep the peace during the administration of an estate.
There is further information about our estate administration services, including a downloadable factsheet, here.

If you would like any further information or assistance administering someone’s estate, then please do get in touch for a discussion with our specialist team.

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Gina Cucciniello

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