There is ultimately only so much that you can do to prevent your loved ones falling out over inheritance issues after you are gone. However, as a High Court decision showed, the threat of bad blood developing can be greatly reduced by making an expertly drafted will and engaging a professional as your executor.

The case concerned a woman whose principal asset, a house, was said to be worth up to £400,000 but who died without making a will. Under the rules of intestacy, her estate was to be divided equally between her five children. In the absence of a will, there could be no executor, professional or otherwise, so one of her sons – the defendant – took on the role of administrator of her estate.

However, another of her sons – the claimant – sought his removal from that office. He did so on the basis that the defendant had delayed too long in selling the house and distributing the proceeds to the sibling group. The defendant responded by accusing the claimant of fraud. After he failed either to put in evidence or to attend a hearing before a judge, however, the claimant was appointed as substitute administrator in his place.

Rejecting the defendant’s application to set aside the judge’s order, the Court found that he had no good reason for his failure to attend the hearing. His fraud allegation had only been abandoned at a very late stage in the case and the claimant had been put to considerable expense in defending himself. For that reason, the defendant was ordered to pay the claimant’s legal costs on the punitive indemnity basis.


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