What if I am an executor of a will being challenged?

Published 05 Nov 2014

An executor plays a crucial role in carrying out the last wishes of the deceased, ensuring the directions laid out in the will regarding the individual's estate are appropriately followed.

This is not always a straightforward task, particularly when the decedent's financial affairs are complicated or there are numerous beneficiaries receiving a share of the assets.

However, the process can become even more complex for an executor when there is an inheritance dispute and someone decides to challenge the will.

In many cases, people believe they were not adequately provided for in the will or may not have been included at all. As such, eligible individuals can make a family provisions claim to ensure they receive a portion of the estate.

What are my options as an executor?

The first recommended step for any executor facing an inheritance dispute is to get in touch with a contesting wills lawyer for expert advice.

They can inform you of your rights and obligations under the Succession Act 2006. This will ensure you are prepared to approach will challenges armed with the correct information.

Disputes can be convoluted and involve many different parties, creating unique problems that you are unlikely to know how to handle on your own. Particularly as executors must tackle the difficult task of settling a claim to the best of their abilities, while still upholding the provisions laid out in the will.

In a worst-case scenario, the claimants may decide to take legal action against you if they feel you have not sufficiently performed your duties, which could leave you directly out of pocket.

What potential issues could arise?

As an executor, there are several factors that are worth considering when a will is contested. These include:

  • Is the individual eligible to make a claim?
  • Have they made a claim within the allotted timeframe (no longer than 12 months after the death of deceased)?
  • Would it be better to settle out of court or have a judge decide on the outcome?

Executors may also find they have a conflict of interest when they are dealing with a will, especially if they are named as a substantial beneficiary.

In these instances, it is again recommended that executors seek advice from a legal team to provide an objective viewpoint on the situation. This is more likely to result in the best outcomes for all parties involved in an inheritance dispute claim.

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