Article written by Sarah Conner, Solicitor, Private Client Department
Adjusting to the challenges caused by COVID-19 has been difficult for all of us. However, for those dealing with the death of a loved one, the onerous obligations placed on executors may seem overwhelming.
In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of claims brought against executors by beneficiaries. Coupled with increased financial hardship as a result of the pandemic, it is vital that executors understand their duties and obligations to avoid claims. In this article, we set out what is required of executors and how to ensure you carry out your obligations to the best of your ability whilst lockdown restrictions and social distancing measures are in effect.
You must act promptly and with reasonable care
Social distancing restrictions and other priorities brought about by the pandemic make it more challenging for executors to carry out their duties in a timely fashion. However, it is vital that you endeavour to do so. As an executor, you are legally obliged to meet any deadlines – payment of taxes, for example. You must also keep in mind that many institutions are experiencing significant delays as a result of the pandemic including HMRC and the Courts. You should ensure you have adequate time to meet these deadlines.
You must take action to protect and maximise the value of the estate
One of the main duties of an executor is to protect the estate and maximise its worth for the beneficiaries. There are several things you may wish to do to make sure you comply with this duty, even while COVID-19 restrictions are in place. You should ensure that any property forming part of the estate is secure including the removal of valuables from any unoccupied buildings and notifying insurers that the property is now empty.
You must stay in regular contact with beneficiaries of the estate
In this confusing and stressful era, beneficiaries may be feeling anxious about the estate. The fear of financial difficulty, combined with concerns about the economy, may also mean that beneficiaries are worried about the value of any property or investments of the estate. By staying in regular contact with beneficiaries, you can alleviate these fears and keep them informed about the performance of the estate assets.
You may wish to seek professional advice from an experienced financial advisor to ensure that you are minimising any losses.
You must ensure accounts are kept up to date. This is essential. It may be more challenging as a result of COVID-19, however, this does not protect you from criticism from beneficiaries if you fail to do so. You must also be responsive when beneficiaries request accounts or information.
How should I deal with difficulty from beneficiaries?
Sadly, even when you endeavour to carry out your duties as executor to the best of your ability, you may face criticism from beneficiaries. The best way to deal with any difficulty is direct action. Take steps as soon as possible to mitigate the situation or contact an experienced lawyer for advice.
For further information and advice, please feel free to email me or contact me directly on 020 8305 4234.