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Advice

How to avoid an argument at the funeral

Like so many things in life, harmony is key. Unfortunately, upon the death of a family member, simmering tensions can rise to the surface.

We are often asked to give advice to executors immediately on topics such as death certificate registration, funeral instructions and issues which arise prior to the actual funeral itself. There can be a lot to do before the solicitor starts work on the legal administration of the estate or any associated trusts.

Like so many things in life, harmony is key. Unfortunately, upon the death of a family member, simmering tensions can rise to the surface.

Anticipate & leave instructions

We have recently acted as a buffer between two executors who could not agree on whether the deceased wished for burial or cremation. It was clear that the two executors did not get on and sometimes arguments like this can be avoided by careful will drafting prior to death.

In this instance a will which sets out the funeral wishes (and in detail if required, no religious service, funeral tea at my favourite restaurant etc.) would have been very helpful. Sadly, no such thought had gone into the drafting of the will and it left some gaps in what the deceased would have wanted.

Another solution would be to ensure that you only appoint executors in your will who are going to either get on together with the task at hand or at least agree to disagree and then act in unison.

Impartial & independent executors

Weightmans can be appointed as (or to act for) the executors. It is often helpful if an independent person or organisation acts as referee in family disagreements over the estate. There is nothing better than being able to fall back on the independent solicitor’s legal view on how a matter shall be dealt with and it can save a great deal of cost in litigation fees.

We are usually asked to take over conduct of the file at the outset, but sometimes will be instructed in the midst of the administration by weary executors who are having to fend off disgruntled beneficiaries or other family members unhappy with the contents of the will and their disinheritance.

Even leaving a letter of wishes detailing who is to get what personal items, the Beswick horse on the mantelpiece or the ‘Rolex’ from that holiday in Turkey will assist the executors in navigating family demands at a very difficult time.

We will always act as an impartial buffer, whether instructed by the executors or where we are appointed ourselves. A neutral stance should be taken with all beneficiaries as, after all, the executors have a fiduciary duty to administer the estate fairly and without loss. This includes litigation fees which can arise when arguing over burial or cremation or even the type of food that is to be served at the funeral tea.

If the content of this update raises any issues for you, or you would like to discuss, please liaise with John-Paul Dennis at john-paul.dennis@weightman.com.

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