Rights of the Beneficiaries
Who chooses the estate solicitor?
In the administration of an estate, a solicitor is normally appointed by the person in charge of looking after the estate. When there’s a Will, this person is normally the Executor. If there is no Will, this person is normally the next of kin of the deceased and is known as the Administrator.
How are the estate solicitor’s fees agreed upon?
The Executor or Administrator will agree to the terms and conditions of the solicitor acting, including the fee arrangement. This may involve a fixed fee being agreed, an estimated fee being given, or an agreement of the basis for charges if it’s not possible to estimate the charges at the beginning.
What entitlement have beneficiaries got when it comes to the estate solicitor’s fees?
In addition to the Executor or Administrator agreeing on fees with the estate solicitor, the beneficiaries of the estate are entitled to know the fee arrangement in accordance with the section 68 of the Solicitors Acts. This ensures that any beneficiaries whose share is affected by the fees payable is aware of this so there are no surprises at the end.
What protections are in place to make sure no additional fees have been charged?
When the estate has been administered, the estate solicitor will prepare the estate accounts. This will provide the details of all assets and liabilities as at the date of death, any increase or decreases since through gains or payments (including the deduction of legal fees), and will record the finalised distribution. These accounts are reviewed and approved by the Executor or Administrator who will also receive the bill of costs from the estate solicitor. The Executor or Administrator can object if any unauthorised fees have been deducted. There are two avenues for recourse if there’s a dispute over legal fees; taxation of legal costs, or complaint to the Law Society.
There are certain beneficiaries who are also entitled to a copy of the estate accounts. If there is a Will, this would be the beneficiaries due to inherit the residue of the estate. It there is no Will, all beneficiaries due to inherit are entitled to a copy under the Rules of Intestacy. Therefore, these beneficiaries will also be well placed to object to fees.
How do you protect against undue delay in the administration of the estate?
The Executor or Administrator is well placed to understand the stages of the administration and should be in regular communication with the estate solicitor. If information is not forthcoming or there is genuine cause for concern, the Executor or Administrator should seek a meeting with the estate solicitor. Should this not resolve matters, alternative legal advice should be considered. In this regard, the Law Society has strict guidelines on the procedure for the transfer of files among solicitors.
What can beneficiaries do if there’s an undue delay in the administration of the estate?
A beneficiary would be advised to send a final letter to the estate solicitor, in advance of appointing an independent legal advisor, requesting a full and comprehensive update in relation to the administration of the estate and requesting any information they require. Should this step be unsuccessful the beneficiary should seek independent legal advices as a beneficiary has to certain timeframes within which to claim assets from the estate of the deceased.
In summary, there are several legal protections and safeguards that ensure media stories like the one above are a rare occurrence. Nonetheless, it’s always a good idea to be proactive in your role as the beneficiary in the administration of an estate and, if needed, seek independent legal advice.