The executor to my father's will is not performing his duties: what options do I have?

Our contentious probate solicitors are frequently asked to deal with disputes between executors and beneficiaries. Sometimes, beneficiaries are kept completely out of the loop by executors. On some occasions, more serious issues arise when executors show dishonesty such as by stealing from the estate.   In some cases an executor may be unsure of their duties and obligations in respect of estate administration. They may sometimes be unwilling to take legal advice in that regard, which can sadly at times mean disputes occur which could otherwise be avoided.

What is an executor?

An executor is a person appointed by a Will to deal with the administration of the deceased’s estate, in accordance with the deceased’s wishes as set out in the Will.

Executors have a number of responsibilities and duties including registering the death, applying for probate, paying any inheritance tax due, distributing the estate to the beneficiaries and keeping accurate estate accounts.

Action can be taken against executors who are not acting in line with the terms of the Will, or are otherwise in breach of their duties

An executor who is refusing to act

A person cannot be forced to act as executor. If the person named as executor in the Will is reluctant to act for whatever reason, it is possible for that person to ‘renounce’ their position as executor provided they have not already commenced Estate administration in some way. Renouncing means they give up their right to act as executor. If the executor is unwilling to do this, a beneficiary can apply to the court to remove the executor if the executor is unreasonably refusing to act, or is acting improperly.

An executor who is acting improperly

An executor may be acting improperly if they, for example, fail to remain independent in the distribution of the estate or if they fail to adequately account to the beneficiaries. If there are serious doubts about the executor’s conduct, the beneficiary should usually first contact the executor and raise their concerns. The executor should be asked to offer an explanation and/or provide details of the estate in the form of an estate account.

If the executor is unwilling to co-operate or unable to satisfactorily explain their conduct, it may be possible to apply to the court to remove the executor.

Applications will be considered on their merits. The standard required to remove an executor is not a low one, and a court will need to be persuaded that it is in the best interests of the beneficiaries of the Estate to replace an executor.

If the executor is incapable of continuing as executor (perhaps due to physical or mental illness), or demonstrates dishonesty such as by stealing from the estate, these could be valid reasons for removing an executor.

An application to remove an executor is made to the High Court and is accompanied by a witness statement setting out the reasons why the removal of the executor is being sought. If the court is satisfied with the evidence, it has discretion to remove the executor.

The removal of an executor is a complex area of law and it is likely to be sensible to take legal advice if you are considering making such an application.

If you are concerned that an executor is not acting in accordance with their responsibilities or the deceased's wishes, or if you would like advice about an inheritance dispute, a will dispute or any type of contentious probate case, please call 01384 410410 and ask to speak to one of our specialist contentious probate lawyers. Alternatively, please e-mail us at providing a brief summary of the issues you wish to discuss with us, along with your contact details.

We have a dedicated practice team of contentious probate solicitors, covering all areas of the UK (with offices near Birmingham and in Wolverhampton) who are experienced in dealing with all types of contentious probate matters, including challenging a will and probate administration disputes and inheritance disputes.

We also have a team of probate lawyers who can assist if you wish to make a new will or review your current will.

We offer an initial no obligation telephone consultation for contentious probate disputes and we can sometimes alternative funding options act for clients who want to contest a will or commence an inheritance dispute/probate dispute on a no win no fee basis.