Emmersons Solicitors - Newcastle and Sunderland
Helen Miller
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The problem with DIY Executors - Wills and Probate.


I read recently that there has been a 300% increase in the number of claims being to the courts made for the mishandling of estates. The claims range from theft of assets by an executor to the fraudulent distribution of assets in favour of certain beneficiaries under a will.

Many people decide to save money by writing their own will and appoint a trusted friend or relative as their executor. Others will use a solicitor to draft their will but rely upon relatives or friends to be their, in effect, DIY Executor. However, using a friend or acquaintance can prove to be a false economy. You may think that you are saving your estate money by not appointing a solicitor to be your executor; many families have found that this to their cost! Thousands of pounds and a lot of heartache can be involved if a family become involved in court proceedings to recover assets after a mistake or theft by the DIY executor.

At Emmersons Solicitors, we uncover all sorts of issues when dealing with probate. A common occurrence is in relation to Lasting Powers of Attorney. It may be the case that the deceased appointed one of their children as their attorney. That adult child then decided that they could use their parent's money for their own purposes, after all it would become their money upon the death of their parent in any event wouldn't it? Not if there are other beneficiaries, they are entitled to their share of the estate too.

In one case we uncovered the fact that a daughter had borrowed tens of thousands of pounds from her mother whilst acting as her attorney. She did not mention this to us when handing in her mothers paperwork. We spotted it when searching through old bank accounts.

Luckily, for the other relatives, it had to be accounted for and so they received a greater share of the estate to compensate for the previously undisclosed loan. Had the deceased not appointed Emmersons Solicitors as Executors, the loan would probably never have been uncovered!

In another case recently a lady died not having married or had children. She had appointed one of her sisters as her Executor to collect in and distribute her estate to that sister and two others. The sister had tried to deal with the estate herself. She was doing very well and had cashed in quite a few bank accounts and policies. However, when she tried to encash a larger policy it was refused by the insurance company as she did not have a grant of probate. At that stage she instructed Emmersons to take over the case.

It was evident that the remaining sisters did not get along with one another. It also became evident that our client had tried to hide one of the main assets not only from her sisters but from us as well. Had it not been for the fact that she could not cope with the final part of applying for probate, she may well have got away with her 'theft'.

In another very sad case, 'Rory' decided that he would cheat his sister, 'Fiona' out of tens of thousands of pounds. He appointed himself as Executor of his father's estate. He then advised Fiona that their father had favoured him and had left him almost everything in his will. Fiona was very suspicious as she had been very close to her father. Upon investigation, it transpired that on the day that 'Arthur' had apparently signed his will, he was actually in a coma in hospital. Moreover, the two witnesses had not actually seen Arthur when they signed his will. They didn't know that they were supposed to be in the same room as him. Had Arthur made a proper will with Emmersons Solicitors, we would have advised him to let his beneficiaries know that he had a will,and that the original was stored with us. That way it could not have been tampered with and Fiona would have known of its existence.

There will always be perfectly trustworthy lay executors who can do the job well. However, as the cases above illustrate, there is the potential for fraud and theft if you choose the wrong executor.

If you wish to discuss the appointment of your executors then feel free to contact us at Emmersons Solicitors.

Newcastle:   0191 284 6989
Sunderland: 0191 567 6667

Author: Jacqueline Emmerson
Collaborative Family Lawyer

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