The High Court has ordered a firm of solicitors to pay £8,000 costs for delay in delivering final estate accounts.
The practice began acting as executors in 1996. However, 10 years later they had still not provided final estate accounts.
The will had nominated as executors two solicitors at the firm. They were repeatedly chased by the charities who were to benefit from the estate; though theirs was a ‘remainder interest’ rather than one in possession.
Provisional estate accounts were produced in 2007, but final accounts weren’t then forthcoming. Eventually the charities’ patience ran out and 5 of them decided to instruct their own solicitors. Informal attempts to obtain information failed and it was necessary for court proceedings to be commenced in February 2016.
Having issued a claim it emerged that one of the executors had died. The remaining co-trustee did not oppose the application.
The charities argued that a beneficiary is entitled to see the trust accounts and that trust accounts and other documents must be disclosed to all beneficiaries when requested, unless exceptional circumstances apply. The court said that the duty to disclose depends on 'what is needed in the circumstances for the beneficiaries to appreciate, verify and if need be vindicate their own rights against the trustees in respect of the administration of the trust'. The judge commented that this will vary according to the specific facts of each case.
Although the court rejected the claim that the charities were entitled to documents relating to income accrued or paid, it did agree that they had the right to see documents relating to capital.
The executors were therefore held to be in breach of duty. An order was made requiring accounts to be disclosed, with the surviving executor to pay the charities' legal costs personally.
(RNLI & Others v Headley & Another, 2016 EWHC 1948 Ch)
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