Many people think choosing a solicitor to manage their affairs after they die will help take the burden off their loved ones — but it can be the exact opposite.
When Maggie Gibbs died, aged 64, in June 2013, her family thought her estate would be simple to wrap up. She had a valid will that bequeathed everything she owned, including her home in Romford, Essex, and around £100,000 in savings, to her four children equally.
But six years on, the four siblings have still not received a penny and now owe thousands of pounds in legal fees.
Removing an executor from a will is a difficult and costly process
Carter Devile now claims that it cannot sell Maggie’s home while one of the siblings is living there temporarily. The family say this is to protect the house against vandalism and squatting, adding that if the property is left empty the insurance will be invalid.
They say the sibling living there will leave as soon as the property is sold.
Maggie’s oldest child, Shelley Renzow-Collins, 47, says: ‘We are trapped in the system. We, as family and beneficiaries, have no rights.
‘The whole system favours lawyers and we have no control over costs. We need closure after six years.’
Stephen Lawson, of FDR Law, is a council member for the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners, specialising in dealing with executors in dispute with beneficiaries.
He says: ‘A basic rule of thumb is the ‘executor’s year’ which means that finalising an estate should not take longer than 12 months or so without a good reason. When something runs over six years, the burden is on the executor to justify why. The family should ask the probate registrar to order that interim accounts are delivered.’
Experts say this is a rare case where the family may have been better off had Maggie not left a will — as under the rules of intestacy, if there is no surviving partner, any children inherit the estate equally.
There is no inheritance tax to pay as the estate is under the tax-free threshold for a couple. Maggie had inherited her late husband, Don’s, allowance when he died in 2006.
Before becoming prime minister, Boris Johnson, MP for one sibling, told the family he would be ‘more than happy’ to help progress the matter.
But removing an executor is a difficult and costly process. The siblings would need to prove in court that the executors were incapable of performing the necessary duties, unsuitable for the position, or have been disqualified since they were appointed.
Ms Saeed says: ‘Details of the solicitors’ fees will be made available to the beneficiaries at the conclusion of the matter and if any one or more of them wishes to challenge the bill then there are mechanisms for them to do so.’