When someone dies, their assets are usually distributed according to their will. The person responsible for managing and distributing these assets is the “executor” of the deceased estate. In some cases, a will appoints more than one person to act as executor, and these individuals normally need to work cooperatively to execute the duties of the role.
As with any complex and potentially emotional task, the administration of a deceased estate can give rise to conflict and disagreements. This is particularly true when executors are also beneficiaries of the estate, and their administrative decisions impact on their inheritance under the will.
Common causes of disputes between executors
Of course, disputes between executors can arise for any number of reasons, including simple personality clashes. However, there are some scenarios that arise commonly. These include:
Disputes over the meaning of the will
Disputes can arise if the executors disagree over the interpretation or validity of the deceased’s will. Some common issues that may arise include:
- If the will is unclear or ambiguous, the executors may have different interpretations of the deceased’s intentions.
- If one executor believes that the will is invalid and the other does not, they may challenge it in court.
- If the will does not specify how the assets should be distributed, the executors may disagree on how to divide them.
Disagreements over the management of the estate
In some cases, executors may disagree over how to manage the estate during the administration period. For instance:
- One executor may believe that assets should be sold to generate funds for the estate, while the other executor might disagree.
- Executors may have different opinions about whether certain debts should be paid off before assets of the estate are distributed.
- One executor may wish to hire a professional (such as a lawyer or accountant) to assist with the estate, while the other executor does not wish to incur the expense.
Disagreements over the distribution of assets
In some cases, executors can disagree over how to distribute the assets of the estate. This may happen because:
- Executors have different views about the worth of particular assets.
- One executor believes that a particular asset should go to a certain beneficiary, while the other executor disagrees.
How to avoid disputes
It is far better to avoid a dispute in the first place, rather than try and resolve a dispute after it has become entrenched. Here are some tips for executors to help prevent a dispute:
As an executor, you have a duty to act impartially and in the best interests of the estate. You should avoid any conflicts of interest and make decisions that are fair and reasonable. By acting impartially, you can help build trust with the other executors and work towards a resolution of the dispute.
Disputes can arise because one executor has different expectations about how communications should occur during the administration. In some cases, executors may simply not communicate effectively, which can lead to conflict. This might look like one executor making a decision without consulting the other, or making a decision without full transparency.
Keep accurate records
Keeping accurate records of all estate transactions can help prevent misunderstandings and disputes. You should keep a record of all communications, decisions, and financial transactions, and make sure that all executors have access to these records. This can help ensure that everyone is on the same page and can prevent disputes from arising in the future.
Managing a dispute
Once a dispute arises between executors it can be challenging and stressful to continue the estate administration. However, there are steps you can take to try to resolve the dispute and move forward with the estate administration:
Identify the source of the disagreement
The first step in managing a dispute between executors is to identify the source of the disagreement. By understanding the underlying cause of the dispute, you can begin to work towards a resolution.
Seek legal advice
A lawyer with experience in estate administration can provide guidance on managing disputes between executors. In many cases, both parties are happy to follow the decision of a neutral third party.
Mediation can be a useful tool for resolving disputes between executors. Mediation involves a neutral third party working with both sides to reach a mutually acceptable solution. Mediation can be a less confrontational and more cost-effective alternative to going to court, and can help ensure that all parties’ interests are considered.
Consider removing an executor
If one executor is causing significant problems and cannot be reasoned with, it may be necessary to remove them from the estate administration. In some cases, it is possible to remove an executor through a court order. However, removing an executor should only be considered as a last resort, as it can lead to further disputes and delays in the estate administration.
As with any complex and potentially emotional task, the administration of a deceased estate can give rise to conflict and disagreements. A lawyer can help you understand your rights and obligations as an executor and can represent you in court if necessary.
If you or someone you know wants more information or needs help or advice, please contact us on 02 4322 0251 or email [email protected].