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The Unhappy Beneficiary- A cautionary tale

26th March 2015

As with most legal matters the best advice is to deal with issues as they arise – or you could end up paying, quite literally, for burying your head in the sand.

It is amazing how, sometimes, even the happiest families descend into outright warfare when it comes to dealing with the estate of a deceased parent. Suddenly all previous suppressed irritations – justified or unjustified – can bubble to the surface causing unseemly squabbles and ultimately family breakdowns. Even the appointment of a professional (solicitor) executor cannot always avoid this.

In a recent case one sibling took issue with the way in which another had dealt with their deceased father’s affairs prior to his death.  This ‘awkward beneficiary’ refused to do anything other than make unsupported allegations of misappropriation. She refused to talk to the executors or her siblings and drove a wedge between one sibling and the others who were drawn into her vendetta. The unfortunate professional executors found themselves in something of a ‘catch 22’ situation.  If they ignored the vague and unsupported allegations made by the ‘awkward beneficiary’ they ran the risk that she would sue them for failing to carry out their duties as executors. However, she would not co-operate in bringing the matter to a conclusion.

The only way forward was for the professional executors to issue proceedings in the High Court Chancery Division seeking the ‘directions’ (or authority) of the Court to distribute the estate according to the Will. The ‘awkward beneficiary’ was served with a Claim Form and required to file a statement of evidence. She failed to do so. After considerable delay the matter found its way before a ‘Master’ of the High Court where, at long last, the ‘awkward beneficiary’ decided to try to put her case. Not surprisingly it was to no avail. The Court took a very dim view of the ‘awkward beneficiary’ and made the necessary orders. For her trouble the ‘awkward beneficiary’ and her gullible siblings found themselves paying the professional executor’s costs, which then stood in the region of £10,000.

The moral of this story is that, whatever you think of a situation, you cannot achieve anything by ignoring it.  If you have a grievance or feel unhappy with the way others are acting, be prepared to follow this up at the time. Failure to do so can lead to increased costs and potentially further family problems.

Ian Oliver, partner, litigation department

George Ide
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