You’ve made a will so that should mean your estate is in safe hands when you die and the people you want to receive a legacy will, right? Well, not necessarily…

Claims against the executors of estates have risen radically. High Court statistics show there were 107 cases in 2012 and 368 in 2013 (more than three times as many) for breaches of fiduciary duty, i.e. executors not acting lawfully and in good faith.

This rise may be because more and more people choose to appoint friends and family, rather than professionals, as executors of their wills. You might think you can trust your family and friends (and we’re not saying you can’t) but being the executor of an estate can be a difficult job and not understanding your duties and responsibilities is not an acceptable excuse, according to the law.

Some claims issued last year involved allegations that executors had favoured themselves when making distributions, or had even intentionally stolen assets from the estate, using the justification that they did not know what they were doing was wrong.

Think about what else executors have to contend with: complex family arrangements; being an executor and a beneficiary; large estates with complicated assets; and the alleged growth of litigation culture (“See you in court!”). Nowadays taking someone to court seems more commonplace and you can seek guidance on how to do it online. Claimants know the court action itself may deplete the entire estate but if they can’t have it, nobody will! Recent cases involving famous families feuding include the estate of the actor Peter Ustinov and the artist Lucien Freud.

If you are making a will and you can envisage any problems arising after you die (for instance a combative family, tax implications or complicated assets), think about appointing a professional alongside your lay executors. You might think that you will save money by appointing lay executors who won’t charge for their services so that your beneficiaries will receive more. But long after you’re buried, the costly consequences of court action may mean that the last thing your hard earned assets are spent on after your funeral is both sides’ legal bills in a court case about what your executors did or didn’t do. 

If you would like advice, please contact our elderly client department on 033 3344 9600 or complete our enquiry form.