Challenges to the conduct of an executor or administrator

Challenges to the conduct of an executor or administrator

Most executors do the right thing, but sometimes, they fail to live up to the standards expected of them. 

There are many disputes that can arise during the administration of the estate. The most common failures by executors we see are:

  • failing to communicate with beneficiaries;
  • refusing to distribute the estate;
  • refusing to reimburse a third party for estate expenses;
  • refusing to sell real estate (often because they are living in it!);
  • incurring unreasonable expenses; and
  • failing to obtain reasonable value for estate assets.

The basic duties of an executor are to collect the assets of the estate, pay any liabilities of the estate, and distribute the remaining assets in accordance with the terms of the Will (or the rules of intestacy where there is no Will).

The executor must administer the estate with diligence and reasonable expediency. When selling assets, they are required to obtain reasonable prices. Depending on the circumstances, they may also be required to earn income from assets while awaiting the distribution of the estate.

An executor is also under a duty to account to beneficiaries for their actions and for the monies they receive on behalf of the estate.

In extreme cases, it is possible to have an executor removed from their position. Usually, however, the quickest and cheapest solution to most disputes is to force the executor to prepare the estate’s accounts and have them reviewed by the Court.

The accounts must show the assets and income that have been collected by the executor, the liabilities and expenses that have been incurred and paid, and the monies that remain to be distributed. At the review, the beneficiaries may make objections to the accounts, including to the reasonableness of the expenses incurred.

Recent cases

An administrator failed to distribute the estate for several years. He ignored multiple requests from us and the Court to have the accounts of the estate and a plan of distribution reviewed. After representations from us, the Court removed the administrator and our client was ultimately appointed administrator.

Several years after the deceased’s death, an executor had failed to distribute the estate. We required them to have the Court review the accounts and approve a plan of distribution. During the review, objections to various expenditure were determined and the estate was distributed.

Four sisters were appointed as executors of an estate. One sister refused to cooperate with the administration and refused to sell the deceased’s house. Acting for the other executors, we obtained orders from the Court compelling the sale. The defaulting executor subsequently refused to agree to a distribution of the estate. We ultimately had the Court review the accounts and approve a distribution.

Two executors had a falling out and refused to communicate, let alone administer the estate. We acted for one of the executors and were able to establish a working relationship with the other executor. Ultimately, we were able to complete the administration of the estate cooperatively and without the need for Court intervention.

Inheritance disputes

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    Our plain-English guide How to manage a deceased estate has practical advice to help you to take charge and finalise the estate.