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Take care when choosing your executors

When making a Will many people do not give sufficient thought to the identity of the executors who will be responsible for the vital task of administering the estate. It is common for couples to appoint their adult children to act as executors, especially after the death of both partners. Often this choice is driven by the wish to try to reduce costs as much as possible.

This may have been in the mind of Mrs Sybil Rigby when she appointed her son, Ian Rigby, and her daughter, Janice Wilby, to be the executors of her Will. Mrs Rigby was stated by her son to be keen to avoid professional costs in administering her estate. However, if she had thought carefully about it, she might have thought twice about appointing two siblings who had seen each only a handful of times in over 40 years.

Mrs Rigby died in 2011 and Ian and Janice agreed that Ian would act alone in administering the estate, perhaps because he lived in the same street as his late mother. Unfortunately, Janice felt that her brother was not keeping her up-to-date with what was going on and he failed to respond to a series of requests for information from her solicitors. Janice consequently took steps to prevent Ian obtaining a grant of probate of their mother’s Will and stalemate was reached. Proposals, counter-proposals and years of negotiation ensued via solicitors acting for both parties. Ultimately, agreement could not be reached and the whole matter ended up in the High Court last year.

In the High Court the judge removed both Ian and Janice as executors suggesting that other family members should be appointed if agreed by them but, if no agreement could be reached, an independent professional should be appointed instead. This outcome took four years and several court hearings to achieve and must have made a considerable dent in Mrs Rigby’s £271,000 estate.

The moral of this story is not to avoid appointing adult children as executors, but that careful thought needs to be given as to whether they are going to be able to co-operate in dealing with the estate. In thinking about this question, your children’s partners and their likely input into the process should also be carefully considered. The complexity of the estate is likely to be a factor too, although it has to be said that Mrs Rigby’s estate was a very straightforward one. In some cases other family members or close family friends might be a better choice than children who are likely to fall out.
Remember, death heightens emotions, and conflicts that arose in a long ago childhood can come to the fore. The lesson from Mrs Rigby’s story is to think carefully, take advice and don’t necessarily choose the apparently obvious candidate.

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