A court has appointed an independent administrator to handle a deceased estate over the objections of one of its executors who deemed such a step unnecessary.

William Franks died in Rockhampton in July 2020 and left a will made in January 2018.

The will named his daughter Jennifer, son Peter and sister Patricia to be the executors of his estate.

All of his five children including Dennis, Terrence and David inherited some portion of the estate comprised in the main by properties at Blackbutt, Rockhampton and in the fishing outpost to the north, Stanage Bay.

Various personal effects were bequeathed to the children individually or were to be divided among them in percentages specified in the will.

Although the estate had a great number of assets it did not have very many liquid or cash assets and there were significant debts that needed to be paid.

The three executors initially agreed to hire a Rockhampton law firm to apply for probate and that all instruction to them should be in writing and joint.

That’s as far as any agreement between them ever got. The will has not yet been probated due to ongoing squabbles.

Jennifer and Patricia suggested a particular estate asset be sold to fund the administration of the estate and settle the debts which included rates and of greater urgency, outstanding insurance premiums.

Peter – with whom Denis sided – objected to this course. They also came up with a proposal that the beneficiaries settle the estate debts by paying them out from their own resources in proportion to their beneficiary share in the estate.

Peter also wanted to prevent Jennifer and Patricia accessing certain estate documents claiming that they were not relevant to their roles as executors and that by requesting such documents both women were exceeding their authority.

Dissatisfied with the ongoing dysfunction, Patricia renounced her role in December 2020.

At the same time David notified his intention to seek additional benefits from the estate on the grounds he had been inadequately provided for in the will. He subsequently filed a Family Provision application in April 2021. That dispute remains pending.

David had been left a one quarter share of the Blackbutt property while the substantial pastoral properties in the Rockhampton region went to Terrence and Peter.  The holiday home in Stanage Bay fishing village together with a fishing boat and commercial fishing licence was left to all four sons.

Jennifer attempted to reconcile the siblings by calling for a family meeting in late December and then again in early January.

Not to be deterred, Peter and Denis refused to attend. Denis went so far as to say that he would not agree to any arrangement other than that specified in the will.

In the meantime, the law firm could do nothing in the absence of instructions and in February it withdrew from representation of the executors.

Presumably at her wits end by March, Jennifer filed an application in Queensland’s Supreme Court to have an independent administrator appointed and swore in an accompanying affidavit that no resolution was ever likely between she and her co-executor.

The application was accompanied by a consent from the estate’s administration partner of a Townsville law firm that offered estate administration services.

The application was opposed by Peter who contended – to the surprise of others – that a resolution could eventually be reached between the siblings.

When the quarrel came before Justice David Jackson in May, Peter claimed that the location of the deceased’s will and the conduct of his funeral evidenced that “despite some disagreements… the administration of the estate has progressed”.

His submission that Jennifer “tended to exaggerate any difficulties that have occurred” was rejected.

The issue for Justice Jackson’s deliberation was whether to depart from the arrangements specified in the will to accommodate “the best interest of persons who have an interest in the estate including creditors and beneficiaries and its due administration” even if that meant.

Observing that “none of the actors in the present case” appeared to have conducted themselves in the estate’s interest as opposed to their own personal position, he concluded that it was necessary to do so.

“In the face of the conflict to date,” he ruled “where one of the executors has already renounced due to the internal conflicts ….and the differing personal interests and absence of any likely agreement as to funding of estate expenses” the appointment of an independent administrator would likely benefit the outcome. He made this determination accepting that it would incur significant additional cost for the estate.

He ordered that both Peter and Jennifer be removed as executors and that the partner from a Townsville law firm, nominated by Jennifer, be appointed the independent administrator.

Re Franks [2021] QSC 134 Jackson J 10 June 2021