Help! My mum was left £5k and an acre of land in a will, but more than a year later the lawyers have done nothing and ignore calls
My mother has been left a sum of money and parcel of land in a distant relative’s will.
The person never married and was in a care home for the last two years of their life and one of this person’s nieces was granted power of attorney.
She arranged for the sale of his house and with his private pension he had a large sum of money.
His niece informed my mother on one of her visits that she and my father were mentioned in the will, and after hearing nothing a year after his death I obtained a copy of the will.
Waiting: My mum was left £5k and a parcel of land by a distant relative, but has received nothing yet (Stock image)
My mother has been left £5,000 plus an acre of land in the UK.
The will got probate in spring this year and so far NO monies have been distributed to any person mentioned in the will, including his nieces who are equally the main beneficiaries of this will.
I have contacted the legal firm working as the executor but they never return my calls. My mother is in her 80s and awaiting a major operation and wants to get the affairs in order prior to this operation.
Who can I chase this with and do they have an obligation to pay these monies out within a reasonable time scale?
Tanya Jefferies, of This is Money, replies: Some estates are more difficult and time-consuming to sort out than others – typically, the wealthier the deceased the more convoluted their financial affairs tend to be.
But if it has been over a year since your relative died, you are entitled to ask some searching questions on behalf of your mother.
We asked a lawyer to explain the normal process of events and what you are entitled to ask for at this stage.
Helen Salisbury, partner and solicitor in the wills and probate team at Nelsons, replies: The unfortunate reality is that more complex estates can take a few years to finalise or to conclude if claims have been made.
The good news is that if the estate has no claims or complexities, executors have a maximum of a year to distribute the estate. Any longer than this and interest will accrue on what you are owed.
How long can estate administration take?
This can be a lengthy process and can take many months. The average waiting time is eight months to a year, and this is in the case of a relatively straightforward estate.
The delays come from having to wait on third parties and other institutions, who you are reliant on for information, for closing bank accounts, and replying to correspondence. This all takes time.
Helen Salisbury: The unfortunate reality is that more complex estates can take a few years to finalise
There can also be further delays if the estate has debts or is insolvent.
The executors need to be confident that they are aware of all assets and liabilities so they can be sure that the net estate is sufficient to honour the gifts (or legacies) and that the money isn’t instead needed to pay off debts.
What role do executors play?
Executors have several duties to fulfil such as ensuring that all creditors are contacted and that there are no claims against the estate.
This all takes time which can be frustrating for you but is important work and they need adequate time to make enquiries as they can be held personally liable for any omissions.
Also keep in mind that legacies relating to land may take longer.
The executor will need to locate the deeds if the title is unregistered and make sure there are no outstanding mortgages or debts against it.
However, executors should not unreasonably delay distributing the estate. The executors have a year to distribute the legacies in the will from the date of death.
This is known as the ‘executor’s year’. They are under no duty to distribute the estate before the end of this 12 months.
However, you are still entitled to be kept informed and have an update at any time.
If legacies are not paid within this year, then interest will accrue.
Interest is payable only from the end of the executor’s year, not from the date of death. It is based on the basic rate payable on court funds (unless the will states otherwise).
From 2 September 2022, the basic rate payable on court funds increased from 0.94 per cent to 1.313 per cent.
You are also entitled to an account of estate activities.
What action can you take now?
You have already correctly tried to contact the firm.
I recommend this is done in writing to make it clear that your mother has seen a copy of the will and needs confirmation of estate activities.
You might want to mention that as a year has already passed she will now be owed interest.
The firm will need authority from your mother to liaise with you on her behalf. If easier, you can ask the firm to write directly to your mother.
If you remain unhappy with the lack of communication and are not able to resolve the issue with the person handling the file, then ask the firm for a copy of their complaints procedure and be sure to follow through on the process.