When you die, it is the executor or executors of your will who will bear the burden of distributing your estate to your chosen beneficiaries. You are perfectly free to appoint a family member or friend to that important role but, as a High Court ruling made plain, there can be advantages in engaging an independent professional.
The case concerned a man who died at the age of 85, a few days after making a will by which he appointed his brother as one of his executors. Issues concerning the will and the distribution of his estate had since become the focus of disagreement within the family. In that context, four of his beneficiaries launched proceedings with a view to removing, or passing over, the brother in his role as executor.
Ruling on the matter, the Court noted that the deceased was fully entitled to choose his brother to serve as his executor and that his brother was keen to fulfil the task laid upon him. Having declared an intention to pursue significant personal claims against the estate, the brother’s position was heavily conflicted. On the face of it, however, such conflict arose from the deliberate acts of the deceased himself and did not, by itself, justify passing over or removing his brother.
In nevertheless upholding the claim, the Court was quite satisfied on the available evidence that the brother was unfortunately incapable of acting as a disinterested, objective administrator of the estate. The welfare of the beneficiaries as a whole would be best served if he were not involved in the administration process.
The effect of the ruling was that the estate would be administered by a professional trust corporation. The Court, however, emphasised that it was making no findings of wrongdoing on the brother’s part. He was undoubtedly well meaning and firmly believed that he knew what the deceased would have wanted and that he was capable of implementing his wishes.