Will disputes have reportedly increased by 700% over the last five years. The Independent on Sunday has ascribed this to increasingly complex family structures with the rise in divorce, second marriages and second families, the increasing fragility of an ageing population and a surge in property values (particularly in the South East).
Challenges to a will can leave lay executors extremely vulnerable – will disputes are not only time consuming but difficult to negotiate with executors often treated as the scape goat for problems. More significantly if you have made a mistake in the management of an estate you face unlimited and personal liability. Pressure from various beneficiaries can lead to mistakes and there have been a number of cases where people have sought to remove executors or have made claims directly against them. While many of these cases have been settled out of court any will disputes are costly – a solicitor in the same role is protected by professional indemnity insurance but most lay executors have no protection at all.
Guy Everington of Executors Insurance says ‘it is very easy to buy a policy to protect you in your role as an executor but people don’t think about it at the start of the process when they first become an executor. We receive a lot of calls from people who have already run into serious problems with the distribution of an estate – at this stage it is really too late to take out a policy. People should be considering this right at the outset when they take on the role. The cost of the premium can be covered by the estate as part of your reasonable expenses – in effect you pay nothing but you secure invaluable protection if problems arise.’