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Choosing independent professionals, rather than family members, as executors of your will has many advantages. Not least amongst them, as a High Court ruling emphasised, is the requirement that they be fully independent and serve all beneficiaries’ interests even-handedly.
The case concerned the estate of a wealthy woman, whose principle beneficiaries were her three children and seven grandchildren. Her will was accompanied by a letter in which she stated that she had made a lifetime gift of most of her personal possessions, including a collection of gold coins, to her oldest son.
She appointed two solicitors and an accountant as executors of her estate. Her daughter, however, launched proceedings seeking their removal. She claimed that they were biased in favour of her brother and lacked sufficient independence to carry out an investigation into her suspicions about, amongst other things, the letter, her mother’s mental capacity to make a valid will, and lifetime transactions that had resulted in a great diminution in the value of her estate.
In ruling on the matter, the Court found no evidence to support the majority of the woman’s concerns. However, her suspicions about the letter and her mother’s purported lifetime gift of possessions to her brother merited investigation. Although the Court made no findings of wrongdoing or fault on the executors’ part, it directed their removal from office.
Noting that the woman’s application had the support of six of the ten beneficiaries, the Court replaced the executors by an independent professional administrator, who would carry out the necessary investigation. Such inquiries were necessary and in the best interests of all the beneficiaries.