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How much detail must I give beneficiaries of an estate about costs?
I am a solicitor executor, administering the estate of a deceased client. How much detail must I give the residuary beneficiaries about the anticipated costs to the estate?
It is good practice for solicitors to provide residuary beneficiaries with relevant client care information at the outset, together with costs estimates and any later revisions.
If unexpected expenses arise, the best possible information about them should be provided at the earliest opportunity. This is outlined in Part B of the Wills and Inheritance Protocol (Parts 20.2 and 20.3).
Residuary beneficiaries are not clients, but they are able to complain and to expect the solicitor to deal with the complaint under the firm's complaints handling procedure. This is in line with a residuary beneficiary's ability to seek third party assessment of costs under s7(1) Solicitors Act 1975 whether or not the solicitor is an executor of the estate.
The Legal Ombudsman also sets out in its Scheme Rules that it will accept complaints from a 'beneficiary of an estate'.
You should also bear in mind Chapter 11 (Relations with Third Parties) of the SRA Code of Conduct 2011 and in particular Outcome 11.1 - 'You do not take unfair advantage of third parties in either your professional or personal capacity' - and Indicative Behaviour 11.1: provide 'sufficient time and information to enable the costs in any matter to be agreed'.
If a residuary beneficiary complains to the firm at any point in the administration of an estate, this should be dealt with in the same manner as one would handle a complaint from a client.
As well as your duties as a solicitor you will, as an executor, have fiduciary duties to the beneficiaries regarding the administration of the estate and the costs of that work.
For further information about costs information for residuary beneficiaries and other client care issues, you may wish to call the Law Society's Lawyerline on 0207 320 5720.
While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information in this article, it does not constitute legal advice and cannot be relied upon as such. The Law Society does not accept any responsibility for liabilities arising as a result of reliance upon the information given.
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