Ali v Taj – A cautionary tale for executors


21 January 2021

The initial dispute in Ali v Taj [2020] arose due to allegations that the executors failed to produce an adequate inventory and account in respect of the deceased’s estate. This issue was intensified due to the length of time the executors had failed to provide the information, which amounted to 11 years from the date of the deceased’s passing to the date the beneficiaries issued proceedings. The beneficiaries submitted a formal request for these documents under s.25 of the Administration of Estates Act 1925, claiming that the executors had failed in their obligations to properly account to them.

Once a Grant of Probate has been issued, the executors are under a statutory duty to fulfil their role properly and responsibly, and can be held personally liable if they fail in their duties. Section 25 of the Administration of Estates Act 1925 provides that:

“A personal representative of a deceased person shall be under a duty to—

(a) Collect and get in the real and personal estate of the deceased and administer it according to law;

(b) When required to do so by the court, exhibit on oath in the court a full inventory of the estate and when so required render an account of the administration of the estate to the court;

(c) When required to do so by the High Court, deliver up the grant of probate or administration to that court.”

Having weighed all the evidence in the balance the court ultimately ordered the executors to produce an adequate inventory and account of the estate.

Costs

As the beneficiaries were successful in their application, the standard rule that the unsuccessful party pays the successful party’s costs applied. Ordinarily costs are assessed on the ‘standard basis.’ In reality this amounts to a cost recovery rate of approximately 60 – 70%. However, in this case the beneficiaries sought an order that costs be awarded on an ‘indemnity basis'. Broadly speaking, an indemnity costs order provides the successful party to receive between, on average 90 – 100% of their costs and an order in these terms is perceived as punitive.

The Judgment handed down records that “rather than the Executor simply doing what he had a duty to do and what the court had ordered him to do, he instead decided to put the respondents to further expense, delay and inconvenience by requiring them to meet an appeal of dubious merit after already waiting for over a decade”. As such felt it appropriate to make a personal indemnity costs award in the sum of £33,000 against the executor.

It is advisable for an executor of an Estate to act with transparency from the outset, and be prepared to disclose an inventory and account for the Estate when requested or risk facing the consequences for a failure to do so. If you have any queries as to your role as an executor or as a beneficiary please contact a member of our Contentious Trust and Probate team.

The content of this article is for general information only. It is not, and should not be taken as, legal advice. If you require any further information in relation to this article please contact the author in the first instance. Law covered as at January 2021.

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