Skip to content

Unethical Executors & Estate Administration Disputes

Unethical Executors & Estate Administration Disputes

Administering a deceased person’s estate as an executor can be a delicate process that can be complicated by potential challenges to the will and disputes with beneficiaries and others.

The possibility of conflict arises because executors are entrusted with the pivotal responsibility of managing and distributing the deceased’s assets according to their wishes. An executor who behaves unethically, fails to fulfil their duties diligently, mis-uses funds from the estate or oversees a delay in administration of the estate can cause serious problems for beneficiaries, exacerbating their grief and stress.

We’ll take a closer look at these issues in this article but if you have questions as a result, please contact our experienced wills and estates team at ROC Legal for immediate legal guidance.

Check if you’re eligible for a Compensation Claim

Find out if your injury or illness is eligible to make a compensation claim. Your online check only takes 3 minutes.

What are the main causes of estate disputes?

Executors have a fiduciary duty to beneficiaries in administrating a deceased person’s will meaning they are expected to act with honesty, integrity, and in the best interests of the beneficiaries at all times. When an executor instead behaves unethically – by misappropriating estate funds, self-dealing, or favouring certain beneficiaries over others, for example – bitter disputes and expensive legal battles are often the result.

Misconduct by an executor is the reason choosing the person to fill this role is crucial. Ideally they are a person with an established reputation for trustworthiness, competence, and willingness to fulfil their duties impartially.

Another common cause of dispute in this area are delays in administration of the estate. Executors may procrastinate or mishandle the estate’s affairs, leading to unnecessary delays in the distribution of assets. These delays can be particularly distressing for beneficiaries who may be relying on their inheritance for financial stability or to settle outstanding debts.

Disputes over executor fees are also a common source of disputes. Executors are entitled to reasonable compensation for their time and efforts in administering the estate. However, disagreements can arise regarding the amount of compensation sought by the executor, especially if beneficiaries feel that the fees are excessive given the scope of work performed.

In cases where there are multiple executors appointed, disagreements and power struggles between co-executors may arise which causes the administration process to become dysfunctional and delayed. Conflicts may arise over decision-making authority, asset distribution, or the interpretation of the deceased’s wishes.

Other conflicts over estate administration are less about the role of executor and more about the contents of the will itself. Disputes may arise due to differences in interpretation of the deceased’s will or estate plan. Beneficiaries may challenge the validity of the will, alleging coercion, undue influence, or lack of testamentary capacity on the part of the deceased. They may also make a family provision application to challenge the adequacy of what was bequeathed to them in the will. Such disputes can prolong the probate process and result in significant legal expenses.

The complexity of modern family structures is also a common problem at the heart of estate disputes. The greater frequency of blended families, estranged relatives and ambiguous designations as to beneficiaries can complicate matters and lead to disagreements over asset distribution.

How are estate disputes solved in Queensland?

In Queensland, the role and actions of executors are governed by the Succession Act 1981, which sets out the rights and obligations of executors and provides mechanisms for resolving disputes. Beneficiaries who believe that an executor is not acting in accordance with their duties, or has lost legal capacity to administer a will, can seek recourse through the Queensland Supreme Court by filing a complaint and requesting the removal or replacement of the executor.

It should be noted the court will not lightly decide to remove an executor, preferring to honour the decision of the testator to appoint that person. But if the weight of evidence demonstrates the executor no longer has capacity, or has behaved inappropriately in carrying out their task, the court will remove them either permanently or temporarily in order to protect the rights of beneficiaries.

Medical evidence is required if the concerns relate to the executor’s capacity while financial records and other documentary evidence will generally be required to show misconduct such as misappropriation of assets, negligence, delay or failure to communicate with beneficiaries.

Seek expert legal advice for further information

To lessen the risk of unethical behaviour by an executor leading to disputes during estate administration, it is crucial for individuals to carefully select their executors and communicate their wishes clearly in a legally enforceable will. It is also advisable for individuals to review and update their estate plans regularly to reflect changes in their circumstances or family dynamics, and to assess whether the named executor remains the best person to administer the estate once the testator passes.

Our expert estate planning legal professionals can help ensure that estate plans are structured effectively and minimise the risk of later disputes. Contact our experienced team for guidance, whether you’re making or updating a will, or involved in the administration of a deceased estate, for more information on this topic.

Check if you’re eligible for a Compensation Claim

Find out if your injury or illness is eligible to make a compensation claim. Your online check only takes 3 minutes.

We’re compensation legal experts, and we’re waiting to take your call.
Get in touch with the legal professionals who care at ROC Legal on