Step-sister’s removal as executor

04 July 2023

Craig Ridge, Partner and Head of Contentious Probate and Trusts, and Georgia Stott, a Senior Associate in the team, advised two brothers who had sadly lost their father. They were having difficulty in administering their father’s estate owing to their step-sister being obstructive.

Our clients had accepted the role of executor alongside their step-sister. Unfortunately, they had been able to make little progress in dealing with the estate. For example, their step-sister refused to work with the solicitors that had been instructed to advise in relation to the estate administration, she refused to allow estate agents to enter the property in order that it could be marketed, and she was not willing to agree with our clients where the deceased’s ashes should be scattered. Matters were complicated further by the fact that she was living in the deceased’s property and would not agree to leave.

We tried writing to the step-sister but unfortunately, she did not engage with us. This is not particularly unusual in cases of this nature, but thankfully there are steps you can take to keep matters moving. We considered with our clients whether it would be sensible to apply for their step-sister’s removal as executor. We decided not to do so at the outset on the basis that we were hopeful that with some specific directions, the estate administration could progress. Unfortunately, the step-sister did not respond to the court proceedings.

Thankfully we were able to persuade the court to use the Directions Hearing (an interim hearing at which the court can make an order as to any further steps that need to be taken prior to a final hearing) as the final hearing. This was largely due to the fact that the half-sister had not acknowledged the proceedings, or filed any evidence, so unless the court ordered otherwise, she would have no right to participate in the final order anyway.

The court made the order we were seeking and, owing to the step-sister’s conduct, our clients were awarded 95% of their costs from their step-sister and the remainder from the estate, which was a very good outcome for them as it is very unusual for a successful party to recover more than 70% of their costs from their opponent.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of the matter.

Despite the court ordering the step-sister to comply with various requirements, she remained uncommunicative and did not do so. This resulted in further correspondence between us, which focused primarily on trying to ensure she vacated the property. However, in the end, with the assistance of our property litigation colleagues, we had to have her removed by way of an eviction notice.

After she had left the property it became clear that she was not going to comply with the court’s directions as to how the estate administration should proceed. As such, we advised our clients that they should apply to the court for her removal. As there had already been proceedings, we were able to make such an application as part of the existing proceedings, on the basis that it was required to enforce the existing order.

Thankfully, once the step-sister realised this was what we intended to do, she consented to her removal, and to our clients’ costs being deducted from her share of the estate.

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