Beneficiaries in the dark: what can you do to obtain the information you need?

18 January 2021

Beneficiaries often have questions and concerns over how the estate of a loved one is being administered but are sometimes kept in the dark by Personal Representatives (PRs). Under section 25(b) of the Administration of Estates Act 1925 (AEA 1925) PRs can be required by the court to provide, on oath, a full inventory of the estate and an account of what steps they have taken to administer the estate. This can be a useful tool to ensure beneficiaries have access to information about the content of the estate and, by consequence, details as to how their inheritance has or will be calculated.  It may also inform beneficiaries about whether there is a need to take further action against a PR who has not complied with his/her duties in respect of the administration of the estate and/or where fraud is suspected.

Beneficiaries should consider applying for an inventory and account if PRs refuse to provide estate accounts or if the accounts are not clear or accurate and no further information is forthcoming from the PR. Such an application is subject to the discretion of the court however they are refused in very limited circumstances. Recent case law has confirmed that matters such as the passage of time, even when this is significant (e.g. where the deceased passed away over 10 years ago) will not prevent a beneficiary’s ability to request an inventory and account (Ali v Taj [2020] EWHC 213).

Below we have provided some answers to frequently asked questions in respect of seeking an inventory and account. Advice should be sought on whether an application for an inventory and account under section 25(b) of the AEA 1925 should be made or alternatively whether an application should be made under CPR 64. CPR 64 is a provision which provides a broad ability to apply to court to address specific questions about the administration of the estate. An inventory and account may be preferable if a beneficiary is completely in the dark whereas an application under CPR 64 may be more useful if PRs have provided some information but beneficiaries deem this inadequate and want specific questions answered.

What is the difference between an ‘inventory’ and an ‘account’?

An inventory generally contains a full list of the deceased’s assets and their values at the date of death which are due to the estate. However it does not include assets made after death such as profits of a business made after death.

An account is an explanation provided by the PRs as to the steps they have taken in the administration of the estate.


Who can request an inventory and account?

Anyone with an interest, a potential interest or a contingent interest in the estate can make an application for an inventory and account. This covers creditors, beneficiaries and those with claims against the estate.


In what circumstances can a request for an inventory and account be refused by the court?

A beneficiary does not have an absolute right to obtain an inventory and account; it is subject to the court’s discretion. However in a recent case, Ali v Taj [2020], the court held that its discretion to refuse such a request will be very limited. In that case a passage of a significant period of time was not viewed as a sufficient reason to refuse the application. The fact that the estate may not have been fully administered has also not been viewed by the courts as a sufficient reason for not providing an inventory and account. An application for an inventory and account however may be refused where the PR admits that the estate has sufficient assets to meet the claim of the party making the application.


What if I suspect that the inventory and account made is false?

If a PR acts dishonestly in providing the inventory and account then there are potentially serious consequences. They may be liable to committal proceedings for knowingly swearing a false affidavit. It can however be difficult to demonstrate there has been foul play. The court can however make costs orders against a PR for failing to take adequate steps to complete the inventory and account.

If however the court finds the PR’s inventory and account to be accurate then it will sign it off. This will prevent anyone served with the application from making further challenges. 


Who pays for the inventory and account?

The costs of preparing the inventory will be deducted from the estate however the court may order that the costs of bringing the application be borne by the PR personally.


Further information

Further information around wills, trusts and inheritance disputes, including our answers to the most frequently asked questions, is available on our website. 


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We welcome views and opinions about the issues raised in this blog. Should you require specific advice in relation to personal circumstances, please use the form on the contact page.

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