Any delay in carrying out the wishes you’ve set out in your Will can be upsetting for your family. This situation can be especially challenging if one of your chosen Executors stops responding. Steve Wright, our Head of Estates, explains what can be done if an Executor isn’t dealing properly with your Will.
When setting up your Will, one of the key steps is deciding who to appoint as Executors. These trusted individuals will be tasked with the important job of winding-up your affairs and ensuring your assets pass on to your chosen beneficiaries. If you’ve opted to appoint close non-family members they can also be a useful point of support for your family during what can be a very emotional process.
As a general rule, it’s helpful to have a sensible conversation with your preferred choice of Executor to check they are happy to take on the role. Each must decide whether they will be willing and able to act when the time comes (although circumstances may of course change later on). It’s important that they consider the responsibility carefully, especially as it can be difficult if they decide to leave part-way through administering your estate.
It is also wise to consider appointing substitute Executors to ensure that you retain control over the individuals who might need to deal with your estate when needed.
Deciding not to act
If one of your Executors chooses not to take on the task there are two options available. They can renounce their role, which is an irreversible decision, or request that power be reserved to them which means they can ask to act later if they change their mind. These decisions have to be made before any steps to administer your estate are taken.
Stepping down once the process has begun
If your Executor wants to give up the role during the administration it can be difficult to have them removed. There’s also a rule that once someone has ‘intermeddled’ in an estate (taken certain steps in the role of Executor), they can’t then withdraw.
So, as noted above, that initial conversation with your Executors is very important. Explain to them that they will be needed to collect and value your assets, arrange for payment of any debts, calculate and pay any tax liabilities, prepare estate accounts and distribute your final estate to the beneficiaries named in your Will. And do make sure they know that there can be personal liability if they fail to act correctly.
Ultimately your Executors must feel that they have the time and capacity to take on the job. It can be useful to choose a trusted friend or family member and a professional who can work to together to act on your behalf when the time comes.
Dealing with an unresponsive Executor
If your Executor stops responding or taking part in your estate administration once things have begun it can be very difficult for everyone concerned. Executors must be aware of what could happen if they don’t carry out their duties as there could be penalties personally and for late payment of tax and any other debts. And of course, your beneficiaries will be keen for the process to be completed too.
The best approach is for your family to try everything they can to re-establish contact. Ultimately the aim is to discover if an agreement can be reached to help conclude things. The final option, if this approach fails, is to apply through the courts to remove the Executor. The court will take into account the best interests of the estate and any beneficiaries when making their decision.