Defending a claim against a personal representative by a long lost relative

We were acting for a personal representative, Mr Y, who had previously administered and then distributed an estate but later faced a claim by a long lost relative, Mr X, who previously had not been known to Mr Y.

It was initially Mr Y’s concern that he may be found personally liable for the money which he had already distributed to other beneficiaries. If the claim by Mr X had been unjustified then there would have been no cause for concern to Mr Y. However, as Mr X was potentially entitled to a share in the estate, we needed to advise Mr Y on the potential defences available.

Mr Y was fortunate. As Mr X’s right to share in the estate accrued 15 years earlier, Mr X was time barred from bringing a claim (the statutory limitation period is 12 years). Mr Y would not have been able to rely on the limitation period having expired if he had been in fraudulent breach or if he had converted assets of the estate into his own use or if he had been a beneficiary of the estate. However, none of those exceptions applied. In addition, we ran a defence of ‘laches’, i.e. Mr X was barred from bringing a claim against Mr Y because he had unduly delayed making the claim.

This kind of case is a clear warning for personal representatives to be extra vigilant when administrating estates and for potential beneficiaries not to delay in making justified claims against an estate.

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