31 December 2021
Stalemate In Administering An Estate
When our client first contacted us she had a sad tale to tell. Her mother had recently died, and her father had died a few years before. Unfortunately our client and her brother – her only sibling – did not get on. The brother was a bachelor who was staying in their mother’s house in Bristol, and he refused to allow our client any involvement in their mother’s affairs. He did not even tell her when the funeral would be held. So our client could not properly mourn her mother, and her children did not get the chance to attend their grandmother’s funeral.
Time went on and our client’s brother continued to deny her any information about their mother’s estate. He said that there was a will leaving everything to him, but he could not produce it, despite repeated requests. In the end our client had to assume that her mother had not in fact left a will, and was intestate. That meant that the house, plus the mother’s savings and investments, would go to our client and her brother equally – under the intestacy rules set out by statute.
Our client seemed to be at a stalemate. She wanted to make sure her mother’s estate was administered properly, but her brother refused to do anything or give her any information. He would not even pass on their mother’s death certificate. The situation suited him well: he was living in the house – which he refused her access to – and was in possession of their mother’s affairs bank accounts, investments and pension details. For all our client knew, her brother was steadily working his way through their late mother’s funds.
As a first step, we obtained a death certificate for the client. This allowed her to contact banks and other institutions formally and obtain some information about her mother’s affairs. Next, our client began the probate process – as next of kin, she had the right to apply to be her mother’s administrator (similar to an executor). We gathered the required information about her mother’s assets and liabilities and submitted it to HMRC, in order to ensure that any inheritance tax due was calculated properly. Our client was then able to apply for a grant of probate (in fact called ‘letters of administration’ in this context, with no will).
Once our client had the grant of probate, she had the legal authority to administer her mother’s estate. She could legally take control of the house, and ensure that it was being maintained, insured, and secured properly. Her brother had to move out, so that it could be sold. She could contact her mother’s bank and transfer the funds into an executor account, and also start to sell off the investments.
It is an unfortunate fact that relatives can sometimes be obstructive and difficult after a death in the family. That seems to be so especially when the last of the older generation – the mother or father – has gone. Longstanding resentments or enmities can surface, and even where someone has a legal duty to administer an estate or apply for probate, they might refuse to do so. This can leave other family members feeling powerless, as well as aggrieved that they are being denied their inheritance.
However there are always steps you can take to force someone to act, and even replace them as executor if they do not. Or – as in the example above – you can do it yourself.
For more information about probate click here.
For more information about challenging or replacing an executor click here.