Pace of dealing with estate and respect to the deceased

Not a legal issue, just a point of interest…

I have just obtained a grant of probate for an executor/beneficiary whose father had died less than three weeks before the date of the grant. He grumbled when I initially said it might take up to a month. I understand that he has also already put the house on the market (although to be fair, he did at least wait until after the funeral, acknowledging that a “For Sale” sign might not impress other family members on the day of the funeral). He is coming to the office to pick up the grant in person so he can take it straight to the banks. There are no issues, eg, a beneficiary’s financial hardship, that would demand particular expediency.

I know people grumble about how long estates can take to administer, but conversely does anyone else feel that undue haste in dealing with the estate seems a little disrespectful to the deceased? Or I am being ridiculous?

Ben Leach
JBHS Solicitors

I don’t think you are being ridiculous at all. I agree that some respect ought to be shown. I usually tell clients not to bring the paperwork in to the office until after the funeral. Of course, grief affects people in different ways and in my experience one of the hardest clients to deal with is the one who responds by needing to keep very busy and rushing about getting things done.

There is another reason not to rush things, as evidenced by a post earlier this week, and that is the possibility of a claim against the estate.

Mrs J E Bennell

Is it “undue haste”?

The deceased may have been a person who objected to anything taking longer than it should (in their mind) and the actions of the executor merely respect that mindset.

It may be that there are issues in the executor’s own life, knowledge of which they are not necessarily willing to share, that dictate a need to have “closure” as quickly as possible

Paul Saunders

Tricky isn’t it. As professionals its not for us to judge whether a client is or is not being reasonable, and of course some are unreasonable as to time expectations. Sounds like this one is in that category.

Equally I think there is something to be said for getting a house on the market once its no longer occupied.

You might want to spell out that a grant does not mean HMRC are satisfied that no IHT is due (or that the IHT as calculated on the IHT return is the actual liability). I have had clients (in the unreasonable category) who were disappointed to hear that they would not know what the actual liability was for quite a time after the grant, and if I had not told them about that, no doubt they would have complained later!

Simon Leney
Cripps LLP

I agree it’s tricky. I think gut instinct as a lawyer comes into a bit as well. Sometimes as Paul has said there may be reasons that are not within the knowledge of the adviser but other times a bit of intuition should be considered and further inquisition may be warranted. It’s not a legal question so non-legal factors come into it but that’s the joy of private client work. From the legal point of view, claims, tax, debts etc… all need to be advised upon and all the while it still needs to be profitable!

Haroon Rashid
I Will Solicitors Ltd

I have just dealt with a very similar case where the widow complained about undue delays when we obtained the grant within three weeks of the death. She has also complained in writing to HMLR because they wanted to see her marriage certificate before transferring the title to her (it was jointly held in her maiden name).

I believe she was keeping herself frantically busy rather than having time to sit down and come to terms with her loss. I fear when she eventually does so it will hit all the harder.

Iain Cameron

There are also of course instances when it is necessary for lawyers to respond very quickly after someone’s death, for example where there may be a dispute as to burial arrangements, so that it is necessary to establish who is the executor or next of kin: eg the recent case of Anstey v Mundle where it went from death to judgment in 6.5 weeks, with the judge lamenting even that amount of delay in burying the deceased.
Alexander Learmonth
New Square Chambers

People can be so unreasonable. In my many years at an executor bank we tried (often failed) to manage expectations by providing beneficiaries with a glossary of estate terminology and a time line of what should be available and by when - heavily caveated…
Nick Dimmock

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