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A wolf in sheep’s clothing: who can you trust with your will?

26th Jun 2023 | Agriculture, Estates & Rural Property | Lasting power of attorney | Private Client | Probate | Trusts | Wills & Inheritance Tax
wolf in sheeps clothing

It’s easy to agree to be the executor of someone’s will, but while many people agree to it with the best intentions, they do so without fully understanding their responsibilities – sometimes with expensive consequences.

After not fully understanding what they had agreed to, one such person was left on the hook for a tax bill of over £341,000.

A sobering tale

The deceased died, leaving an estate of £1,178,196.92. Her friend was appointed personal representative as the deceased had not made a will. The assets were sold, and the proceeds were paid to the beneficiary trusting that he would settle all the liabilities and pay the tax bill. But he didn’t. He ran away to Barbados with all the money, leaving the personal representative to foot the tax bill.

A sobering tale and a warning to all executors/personal representatives that the law is clear on this point. The trial judge cited the inheritance tax legislation in detail, stating that it is no defence that the personal representative transferred the funds to the beneficiary relying on a promise that they would be responsible for paying the tax. The trial judge went on to say, “Nor is it a defence that Mr Harris was ignorant of his obligations, as a personal representative, to pay the inheritance tax owing.”

Appointing an executor when creating a will

It is important that when creating a will, the appointment of executors is carefully considered. Most of the time, close friends and family are best placed because they have more detailed knowledge of the assets and liabilities and understand the family dynamics. But sometimes, it is in the best interests of all involved to appoint a third party, someone experienced, independent and not conflicted.  Your solicitor or accountant will usually be happy to act. 

I’m not saying that your brothers and sisters or your friends and family are wolves in sheep’s clothing, but you shouldn’t underestimate the complexity and, sometimes, the great challenges that come with having to deal with the administration of someone’s estate. Maybe the beneficiary was an innocent party and left the country unaware of his actions, or maybe he was a wolf. Who knows?  

If you need legal advice on any of the issues raised, please get in touch with Winter Addis on 01768 347084 or email [email protected] 

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