The furore which has erupted over Joan Edward’s £520,000 donation to the government may well put her executors in the firing line. Her legacy was shared between the Conservative and Liberal parties, as the acting coalition government of the day, but the Labour party have reviewed the contents of the will and now argue that the legacy was intended for the government and not individual political parties. They argue that the money should have been added to treasury coffers instead. The Liberals who are offering to return their £99,000 share of the legacy have laid the blame firmly at the door of the executors and if Joan Edward’s executors are at fault they potentially face unlimited liability for failing to correctly interpret the will. If the money had already been spent they could be held liable for the amount due to the treasury and any subsequent legal costs arising from the dispute. Joan Edward’s executors are solicitors and will probably be covered by some form of professional indemnity but if they were non-professional executors they would now be in an extremely vulnerable position.
Hugo Johnsen, founding Director of Executors Insurance says: ‘this is just the sort of dispute that can arise over a will – the interpretation of the deceased person’s wishes isn’t always straightforward and it can be an absolute headache for executors who are simply trying to do the best possible job they can. There has been a demonstrable growth in disputes over wills (High Court statistics showed 38% increase in 2010) and executors don’t realise they face unlimited liability for their mistakes – practically this means that financial and legal claims against them are paid out of their own pocket not the estate. This is why we set up an indemnity scheme for non- professional executors – it is designed to offer the same protection that solicitors receive through professional indemnity insurance. Sadly we get quite a lot of enquiries from executors who have already run into serious problems and at this stage it is too late to take out indemnity insurance – if they had taken out an Executors Insurance policy when they took on the estate they would have been protected.’