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Executors - Five Ways To Deal With Impossible Beneficaries

Posted: Tuesday, 2 January 2024 @ 13:25

One of the dilemmas facing executors of wills is that they have a balancing act between trying to distribute the estate quickly eg give the cash the beneficiaries yet administer the estate correctly and ensure that there are no possible negative repercussions later.


The law is clear that if the executor gets it wrong, the executor can be personally liable. Yet the poor long suffering executor can find him/herself dealing with difficult and demanding beneficiaries who may have their own agendas beyond getting their hands on the cash as quickly as possible.


So what to do? Are there any guidelines that can help the executor stay clear of problems on the conduct of the estate?


Here are some tips.....


1 Irrespective of whatever possible family differences/difficulties with the people you are dealing with, keep the relevant parties informed. Evasiveness/ lack of information to others does not pay and in my experience stores problems for later. This is so even when there is no legal obligation to disclose such as a will or financial detail. Generally the more information given the better for tactical reasons which can be useful later. (such as in showing you have nothing to hide)


2 Focus on the goal - which is to get the estate dealt with as legally correct  as possible but also promptly. Never lose sight of that which you can be easy to do if you are dealing with the day to day aggravation of  someone difficult(making your life a nightmare) and the overall stress of a doing an estate within a time of grief.


3 Remember you have time. By law you have one year to distribute the estate within date of death("the executors year") so this can take pressure off dealing with the estate. However, do not use this as an excuse to delay. Again, I like(and the courts do too) executors  who get on with it and are seen to get on with it.


4 Communicate firmly but calmly in the face of pressure. A key aspect of dealing with a conflict situation is the ability to maintain your integrity and security in the face of poor, sometimes bad conduct by others. Your ability to remain calm in the face of unwarranted pressure will stand you in good stead if a judge ever scrutinises your conduct.


5 Whenever appropriate persistently offer mediation as it will psychologically undermine the opposing party and again it is what the courts like to see. If I am facing a difficult party I will always keep offering mediation and reminding them( if they refuse) that I have offered it. The impact is to maximise the chances of a costs award in my client's favour should this go to court. It will also create divisions between them and their lawyer as their lawyer should be advising them to mediate. The stress can be transferred more to the opponent.