Disputes involving executors and beneficiaries are not unusual. Sometimes this may be because of a breakdown in communication or differences of opinion.
In many cases, such disputes can be resolved. However, in more serious cases, executors can be removed and replaced and court proceedings may be required in order progress the administration of an estate.
In one case, the High Court recently took the unusual step of also issuing a warrant for one executor, Stephen Frejek (‘Stephen’), after a court application was made by his brother, Andrew Frejek (‘Andrew’) in respect of breached court orders. Due to Covid-19, the committal hearing took place via Skype.
Why was the warrant issued?
When their mother, Brenda Frejek, died in 2009, Stephen was appointed as executor of her estate. In 2017, Andrew obtained a court order which removed Stephen as executor and appointed Andrew in his place. Stephen was ordered to transfer all papers and funds in relation to the estate to Andrew. He was also asked to account for his dealings with the estate, but failed to do so.
This resulted in a further application being made by Andrew in 2018, requiring Stephen to produce various documents and information about the estate. Stephen failed to attend the hearing and the court ordered that Stephen had 28 days to provide certain information about the estate and his dealings with it. That did not occur and Andrew subsequently issued a committal application which Stephen did not attend.
In May 2020. The High Court found that Stephen was in contempt of court and it directed the issue of a bench warrant, so that Stephen could be apprehended and brought before the High Court for sentencing.
Committal proceedings in estate disputes are rare, because once a court order is made requiring an executor to do something, most will usually comply, given the sanctions which the court can impose if they do not.
In the above case, the new executor of the estate, Andrew, required information in order to be able to deal with the estate, which was not provided by Stephen. Despite being given several chances by the court to remedy this, Stephen did not comply.
The above case demonstrates that it is vital that disputes between executors and beneficiaries are addressed as soon as possible and, if court orders are made requiring and executor to give information to the court, that this is provided by the deadline issued by the court.
Alternative Dispute Resolution
Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) can allow executors and beneficiaries to resolve estate disputes at an earlier stage, without needing to involve the court and this can also reduce time and costs. ADR involves using different types mediation and negotiation.
Our Disputed Wills and Estates Team advise both beneficiaries and executors about resolving disputes and using ADR.