When a someone drafts their Will, they frequently appoint people close to them to be an executor. This is often done as the testator (person making the Will) trusts this person to action the terms of their Will, administer their estate and carry out their wishes. Sometimes, an executor will also be a beneficiary under the Will and this can cause problems in certain situations. Though being excluded from a Will may also be the source of the issue!
Firstly, we will consider how best to approach disputes wherein an executor seeks to challenge a Will to which they are also a beneficiary.
As an executor, you must act impartially and uphold specific duties under your appointment. If you are also a beneficiary and seek to challenge the will you are appointed to action, you will find yourself in a position of conflicted interest. This is due to you not being in agreement with the terms of the will and therefore not wanting to action them accordingly.
In such circumstances, it is not possible to fulfil your role as an executor and so there are a couple of options available to you. In most instances, there will be more than one executor appointed under the Will and this will assist you in addressing your conflicting interests.
The simplest solution to the conflict is to renounce your position as an executor of the estate. This means that you would step down as executor and allow the remaining executor(s) to apply for probate and administer the estate. This would remove the conflict of interest and allow you to proceed in bringing your claim against the estate.
In the alternative, you can retain your appoint as executor, but allow the other executor(s) to apply for probate. You can allow the remaining executor(s) to apply for probate in their name(s) and you will not be detailed as an acting executor on the grant of probate.
It is important for potential claimants to be aware of the relevant limitations on claims against estates. Once the grant of probate has been granted, certain limitations come into play. It is for this reason that it is important to seek independent legal advice as soon as possible.
If the Will only appoints one executor, you can seek to apply to the court for an independent solicitor to be appointed as the executor of the estate, to allow you to progress your claim. A solicitor is able to apply for a limited grant wherein they are permitted to collect in estate assets but not distribute the estate until the dispute has been resolved.
If there is no Will, and the estate requires letters of administration, then the prospective claimant should not apply for letters of administration in their own name as this would place them in conflict with their role and the estate.
During the course of these considerations, an executor-beneficiary should also be considering placing a caveat on the estate, to prohibit to the grant of probate, if they intend to challenge the validity of the Will.
Disputes involving conflicts of interest can be complex and time sensitive. It is important to seek legal advice at the earliest opportunity to ensure that you do not take any action that would prejudice your position. Call our specialist inheritance dispute solicitors on 0161 696 6178.