A prolonged estate administration has been ended by order of a court on the application of one executor over the objections of another.
Marilyn Plath of Childers died in September 2010 survived by her husband Alfred and seven children. Under her last Will made in May 2010, Marilyn appointed her children Alexis and Ira as the two executors.
Her estate consisted in the main of the home at Childers – over which Alfred was granted a life tenancy – and a large land holding at the nearby coastal town of Woodgate.
Alfred died less than a year later triggering Marilyn’s bequest of the Childers property to the seven children, five of whom – including Alexis and Ira – wished to retain the property.
Alexis advanced funds to the estate to pay out the interests of the two beneficiaries voting for a sale but was then refused reimbursement from estate funds upon Ira’s dissent.
Marilyn’s will gifted the Woodgate parcel to the six youngest children – including Alexis and Ira – in a way that required it to be subdivided.
The subdivision was completed in April 2015 and the Childers home was finally sold in July 2019 leaving cash proceeds of just under $370k available for distribution.
Alexis unsuccessfully sought Ira’s consent to a distribution on numerous occasions.
She ultimately applied to the Supreme Court in November 2021 for orders allowing her to wind up the estate.
Ira – who without legal representation contested that proposal – argued that distribution should not occur until an independent administrator had been appointed to conduct a forensic examination of the estate accounts, specifically addressing 22 concerns he had raised.
Ordinarily the appointment of an independent administrator would be approved in the event of a dispute, especially where the executors are also beneficiaries. That course relieves the administration from the hostile dealings that would otherwise continue if one of them remained as executor.
Alexis contended however that given Ira had already had ample opportunity to have the accounts examined and given the passage of time, the appropriate course was to have the Court confirm and order the final distributions to be made. Distribution was – after all – the only remaining act required for finalisation of the estate.
Justice Graeme Crow – sitting in Rockhampton – agreed. He noted that Alexis had answered all of Ira’s 22 concerns in her affidavit and had “entirely vouched” for all the estate expenses with receipts.
“Due and proper administration of the estate requires a final distribution to be made as soon as possible,” he concluded.
Ira’s suspicions of impropriety in respect of the estate expenses – although they were “genuinely-held” – were insufficient of themselves to warrant the making of the orders that he had sought.
His Honour noted that the distribution of estate funds would not prevent Ira from pursuing his contentions in his own time and at his own expense, at a later date.
Justice Crow ordered that Alexis be permitted to make final distribution in the specific sums she sought by virtue of detailed calculations – including for the amount she had advanced in relation to the Childers property – and removed all requirements for any further discussion among the executors or with the beneficiaries.
He also ordered that Ira pay Alexis’s costs of the Court proceedings, noting that such an order required further discussion among them at least to determine those costs.
Executors don’t always agree, and this case is an example of the issues that can arise when disagreement occurs. They have a duty to act in the best interests of the estate and to work to resolve any differences of opinion with adverse cost consequences if they don’t.
One wonders whether the 12-year dispute would have persisted as long as it did had Ira had the benefit of sound legal advice.
Justice Graeme Crow