A young lady called us in a panic the other day. When she calmed down a little we learned her father had passed away after nominating her brother as his sole executor. It seems the two siblings were not the best of friends. Indeed, she was openly accusing her brother of intent to ‘rip her off’ as he held the only copy of the will.
A rather large postage stamp collection was at the heart of her concerns. There was no public record she knew of listing the contents of the collection. All she knew was her father had promised her “Someday these stamps are going to make you very rich.” She was beginning to wonder if that would ever happen.
Unfortunately the Lady Was in a Tight Predicament
English law states quite clearly that only people named as executors may read a will before a grant of probate. This grant authorises them to carry out the deceased’s wishes. Therefore the lady had no automatic entitlement, although it is perfectly normal for executors to share the content of wills with family members.
However, strictly speaking the brother was in his rights to keep the information to himself until a probate court issued the grant. After that, his father’s will would become public knowledge on the internet, because he had to submit it with the application. In the meantime his sister’s choices were limited.
Her Cheaper Option Would Be to Accelerate the Probate Process
We suggested the lady ask another member of the immediate family to explain an executor’s responsibilities. We thought her brother would be keen to know as he presumably had an interest too. His duties would include:
# Satisfying himself the will was the original, final testament
# Placing a death notice in The Gazette
# Valuing the estate and reporting this to HMRC
# Gathering the assets together and securing them
# Provisionally allocating any nominated assets
# Allowing the beneficiaries to lay claims for the rest
# Paying any inheritance tax to Revenue and Customs.
# Settling any debts, and distributing the remaining assets
If an executor fails to carry out these duties during a reasonable period, then the Probate Court may appoint an administrator to wind up the estate.
What Happens if This Process Drags on Too Long?
The law may be stubborn, but is not a complete ass. A person who reasonably believes they are a beneficiary may apply to a Court for relief after exhausting their other options.
The Court may then decide to order the executor to release a copy of the will. They may also have to pay the Court’s cost if it finds they acted obstructively. Of course, this might have all been avoided if the deceased had appointed their solicitor as executor.
Lawyers do play a useful role under such circumstances. If you are leaving your assets to a quarrelling, fractious family you may like to appoint a lawyer to assist. After all, your beneficiaries will foot the bill, so effectively it’s from their pockets.