Disputes Between Executors – When Executors Don’t Agree

Do executors all have to agree on everything?


Unless an executor has renounced (formally decided not to act) or has reserved powers (not to act at this time) then the remaining executors must come to an agreement on everything.  They must be fair and reasonable in their dealings or they risk the Court penalising them if things deteriorate that far that nothing can be done.

One executor can apply to the Court to have other executors removed, but the result of this is almost certain to be an expensive Court case and the appointment by the Court of an Independent Probate Solicitor to take over from the original executors or any firm they have appointed.   Substantial expense and delay, and the costs of those may be ordered by the Court against all or any of the executors. The Court has more important things to do than decide who is right or wrong in such cases.

Perhaps that puts minor squabbles in context, and we do hear of some fairly pointless-sounding ones.

One executor ignoring the others puts themselves in great financial danger.

The above applies both before the Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration are obtained and after, whilst the assets are being gathered in, sold where relevant and distributed.

All the acting executors are entitled to a copy of the Will, but whoever is holding it cannot release the actual Will – which is essential for the probate application – unless they agree where it should go.

The same applies where professionals are appointed by the executors – if the executors disagree, then the whole process comes to an (expensive) halt.

If this is before the Grant has been obtained a person with a legitimate interest in the estate – such as a beneficiary or creditor – can apply for a Citation, once 6 months has elapsed from the death. It is essentially an instruction to the Executors to get on and obtain the Grant within a specific timescale or they will be removed.

If the Grant has been obtained but nothing is happening – a beneficiary will have to apply to the High Court for an Order under s50 Administration of Justice Act 1985 to remove the Executors and substitute them with people prepared to do the job. They must be named and have agreed to do so. You cannot ask the Court to remove the existing Executors and make their own decision as to who to appoint.  That contrasts with the pre-grant situation above. The Court may well order the executors to personally pay the legal costs.

Executors acting honestly and reasonably and dealing with things in a timely manner have little to fear from the Court or from beneficiaries who disagree with what they have done.

If, unusually, there is a clause in the Will that can be read in two ways, the executors can apply to the Court for a “Benjamin Order” where the Court will clarify what the executors need to do.

If it is something like a missing beneficiary who may or may not be dead, then it is often possible to take out Missing Beneficiary Insurance so the estate can then be distributed without the fear of the executors being personally liable if the missing beneficiary turns up alive and well.