Having a Will in place is essential to ensure your property and assets are distributed according to your wishes after you pass away. It is also important to carefully choose the Executor(s) of your Will.
Responsibility for your estate
The Executor is responsible for passing your estate on to beneficiaries as you have indicated in your Will. The Executor will handle the distribution of your property and assets, including the payment of due taxes and debts and deal with related legal matters. Therefore, it is highly important for you to select a person or professional that you trust so you can be sure the legal aspects of handling your estate are taken care of correctly (see Choosing your Executors for more information).
Executor wrongdoing: A case study
A case reported recently in the Sunderland Echo highlights the importance of choosing your Executor wisely.
David Vickers put all he owned in trust for his daughter Charlotte, 19, to inherit when she turned 21. Vickers appointed his 57-year old sister, Carole Walker, as sole trustee of his estate. But after his sudden death, instead of holding the money on trust until her niece reached 21, the debt-ridden woman spent over £30,000 of the inheritance within months of taking control of her brother's cash.
The aunt conferred with her family about how she planned to spend the money on home repairs and a car, which led to a police investigation, a trial and subsequent conviction with an eight-month jail sentence for Carole Walker. She admitted theft and blew the money as she wrongly believed that her brother had made a provision for her and their mother and that she was entitled to spend some of this money. The woman, who cares for her mother and husband, has put a charge on her mother's home, which means her niece will get her money back after the pensioner dies or moves out.
If an Executor steals money or refuses to distribute the estate as per the terms of the Will, the beneficiaries run the risk of never getting what they are entitled to.
Sometimes it is difficult to bring formal charges against an Executor who has stolen money or property that is meant to go to the beneficiaries, especially when the Executor is also a beneficiary. However, it is not impossible. Beneficiaries and family members can bring a petition before the court giving evidence of the Executor's wrongdoing, and if the petition is accepted the case will go to trial. If the court rules that the Executor has mishandled the estate, they are removed from their role and ordered to pay back all money and return the property. In some cases, the Executor can face criminal charges.
Lengthy legal proceedings and loss of property can usually be avoided if your Will is properly drafted and you appoint suitable Executors to deal with your estate.