Brother is dragging his heels as executor of uncle’s will - is there anything I can do?

Q&A: The executor has one year from date of death to organise probate, writes Dominic Coyle

Any executor is given a grace period – one year from the date of death – to organise probate for an estate. Photograph: iStock.

Any executor is given a grace period – one year from the date of death – to organise probate for an estate. Photograph: iStock.

 

I would really appreciate some advice please. I am one of the beneficiaries of my late uncle’s will. He died in August of last year. My brother is the executor. There seems to be an inordinate delay with the will being sorted out and finalised. The estate is straightforward - no property, just funds in bank accounts.

There are rifts in the family and I don’t speak to my brother. Is there anything I can do legally to get my brother to get a move on? What are my rights as a beneficiary?

Ms M.M., by email.

Family rifts can sometimes magnify little issues, or make it difficult to see small mistakes or omissions for what they are, rather than deliberate slights. And avoiding such issues is one reason why many people choose to make a qualified legal professional their executor.

Yes, they can charge the reasonable costs of securing probate and administering an estate against the assets. But it can avoid a lot of friction.

That’s not to say that your brother is not dragging his heels here. It sounds like a simple estate – no property or other complexities, at least from your account. But if he is managing it himself, it can be more intimidating that it looks.

In any case, your hands are tied at least until August of this year. Any executor is given a grace period – one year from the date of death – to organise probate for an estate. This is called the executor’s year and, during this period, they are protected from any legal action or challenge over how probate is being managed.

Can you pursue him thereafter? Yes, but you might think carefully about that.

Aside from you or someone else having a friendly word to see if the process can be speeded up, the only way to formally remove an executor is via the High Court. That’s expensive and, furthermore, unless criminal misdeed is shown, courts are reluctant to remove executors.

In this case, given the size of the estate, court action could eat into much of the inheritance available for distributions. Costs in such actions are commonly levied against the estate.

Finally, I would be careful about third hand reports, especially in situations where there are divisions among beneficiaries or family.

Anyone who told you that a will should be sorted by Christmas for an August death has likely never dealt with probate themselves. There is a reason executors are given a year. Their task is onerous and legally they can be held liable for mistakes. So it is best to make haste slowly. If neither you nor any other family member can speak to the executor, it really is a case of wait and see.

After August and short of a court case, you could send a legal letter across his bows if you think it will speed things up. The danger of course is that existing family rifts make cooperation even less likely at the point of a legal letter.

Please send your queries to Dominic Coyle, Q&A, The Irish Times, 24-28 Tara Street, Dublin 2, or email dcoyle@irishtimes.com. This column is a reader service and is not intended to replace professional advice. No personal correspondence will be entered into.

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