Have you made your will yet? Over half of UK adults have failed to make a will, most of them stating that they’ve just never got round to it, or don’t have anything of value to leave anyway. However, it’s not all good news for the 48% of adults who have made their will. A recent report by the Chancery Division has revealed that three times as many cases alleging mishandling of an estate are ending up in court this year compared to last year. So what’s going on?
If you have made a will, one of the key things you have to do is to appoint an executor – the person you trust to carry out your wishes and share out your assets once you’ve gone. This can be a member of the family, or an independent third party such as a solicitor. Many people name family members as executors but when it comes down to the managing of an estate, executors often choose to delegate this responsibility to a solicitor as liquidating assets fairly and dealing with the tax man is fairly complex. The Chancery Division however flags up the issue of “DIY executors” as one of the main reasons why an increasing number of disputes over an estate are ending up in Court.
The main reason why many people decide to take on the job of executor themselves rather than delegating responsibility to the legal experts is to save money. The fee charged by a solicitor for this sort of probate work will be expressed as a percentage of the value of the estate, including any property which the deceased has left. Average sums charged by solicitors in the UK for dealing with an estate are around £5,000 which is not an inconsiderable sum. It’s therefore not surprising that so many family members are trying to save cash and do the work themselves.
What Constitutes Mishandling?
It is impossible to say how many out of the 368 cases for “Breach of Fiduciary Duty” were down to incompetence and which were down to dishonesty. Being an executor is something most of us will only experience once or twice, and when complex property and savings transactions are involved, it’s easy to slip up and make mistakes. Many DIY executors also think they can charge the estate for their time just as a solicitor would, but this is not the case. DIY solicitors might, through no fault of their own, find it impossible to make time to deal with the estate, or sell the assets of the estate at a knock-down price because they have no idea of their real worth. Even worse are the DIY executors who set out to be deliberately fraudulent, by siphoning off some of the estate’s money, increasing payments to family members or by just refusing to follow what is set out in the will. These issues not only land an executor in court, they cause permanent, painful family rifts between the people involved.
It’s therefore always best to get the professionals on the case when it comes to sorting out an estate after someone has died. Solicitors are impartial and independent, and cannot be accused of favouring one family member over the other. Solicitors are also regulated by the Law Society, so if you believe your solicitor is not acting in your best interests, you can ask the Law Society to intervene. Yes, using legal representation is going to cost money, but any legal fees charged come out of the estate rather than direct from your own pocket. It’s simply not worth falling foul of the law, or even worse the rest of your family, by trying to take on this complex and important responsibility alone.