Brakes Put On Out of Control Executor

Posted: 24th March 2011

A woman in her 60s was recently forced by her two brothers to repay more than £30,000 she had charged for administering their late parents’ estates after they threatened legal action against her.
The woman, the eldest of three siblings, had been appointed the executor of her father’s will. When their mother’s death was followed within months by that of their father, both estates were adminstered together. Her father had chosen to make her his executor despite the fact that she had left school at 17 and had no formal experience or training for the role whilst her two younger brothers are both degree-educated and experienced professional accountants. Both had offered to assist with the administration of the estate without charge, but their offers were ignored and she went to the extent of making sure neither could gain access to their late parents' house.
Having already persuaded her parents to leave their holiday home to her, the woman then took more than18 months to ready their modest former house for sale, despite both parents having been resident in a care home for several months prior to their deaths. During that period she took at least five holidays and claimed she was 'too busy' to make more rapid progress.
The accounts prepared for the beneficiaries showed she had charged the estate for many items multiple times, charged more than £2,500 for cleaning her own house and charged the estate for her own groceries and other household expenses. Although unemployed, she started charging the estate for her time at more than £15 per hour and included charging for telling the funeral directors of her father's death on the day he died. The following day she telephoned one of her brothers to say she intended to 'award' her boyfriend £7,000 from the estate and to suggest that she should have 'exclusive custody' of their late mother's jewellery (worth more than £20,000) 'to preserve it for future generations'. All expenses of the estate paid by her brothers bore no offers of recompense.
The final straw came when she 'discovered' work she had done more than a year prior to the death of either parent which she decided should be charged to their estates - including the cost of taking one of her sons out for a lobster dinner and supported the claims with obviously trumped-up 'records'.
Her bills and those of her lawyers came to more than £100,000 for a straightforward estate worth less than £600,000. She gave no explanation as to why her and her legal fees were so excessive and, after the brothers threatened court action to resolve the matter, she threatened to freeze the estate assets so only she would have access to them. When the brothers ignored the threat and started court action, she agreed to repay her charges and that the estate should carry the cost of their legal fees for challenging her administration of the estates. The estate administration was eventually completed more than two years after the second death.
It is important to choose your executor with care and competence and a wilingness to involve the beneficiaries in decision making are valuable attributes. In any event, being the executor of an estate does not entitle a person to pillage the assets.
If you are the beneficiary of an estate which is being grossly maladministered, contact us for advice.