Monday, 4 August 2014

Cutting corners could be costly

Choosing a family member to handle your estate after you die could be a recipe for disaster, according to a family law expert.

Fiona Mainwaring is the probate specialist at Martin-Kaye Solicitors, in Euston Way, and she said research had shown more and more claims being made that wills had been mishandled.

 “The High Court has revealed that claims have more than tripled over the last year – from 107 to 368 in just 12 months – which is a huge increase in such a short time. The claims cover a range of complaints including executors stealing assets, committing fraud when it comes to distributing the assets, and favouring certain beneficiaries over others.

“It can’t just be a coincidence that the number of claims are on the rise at the same time that many people are appointing family members or friends to act as executors and trustees rather than appointing solicitors.

“So even though it may seem to be the more cost effective option, you could face even bigger costs in the long-run if you have to use the courts to get the assets back following a mistake or even theft by the executor.”

Fiona said with a high value estate, some executors may be enticed by the amount of money involved and be prepared to take big risks so that they benefit themselves. And others may be tempted to ‘misinterpret’ the will on purpose, to enable one beneficiary to receive more than someone else.

“In today’s world of blended families, relationships are becoming increasingly complicated, and the executor may believe one side of the family is entitled to more than the other. If they do decide to distribute the assets however they like, they will be failing in their duties as a legal executor, as they should be following the wishes of the person who has died as set out in their will.”

Fiona said the risk of things being handled badly would only increase as more and more people decide to handle probate themselves rather than taking expert legal advice.

“Obviously not everyone will have their own agenda when it comes to being the legal executor of a will, and the vast majority of people will take the responsibility seriously and carry out their duties just as they should be done.

"But whether it’s through a lack of understanding or actual fraud, there will always be someone who fails to carry out the task correctly.”