How Competing Interests in a Deceased Estate Are Determined

Navigation of Conflicting Interests in Wills Variation | Klein Lawyers

We know that in British Columbia estate litigation, the executor of the deceased’s estate must be impartial. However, when the executor of a will is biased or has a conflict of interest, issues may arise, especially in cases of wills variation. The estate litigation lawyers of Klein Lawyers explain.

Biased Executors and Estate Litigation

When we think of estate litigation, we often think of children or spouses who have been left out of a will or inadequately provided for, who then vary or challenge the will. However, in some of these cases, the family of the deceased may ask for the executor to step down, arguing there is a conflict of interest because the executor happens to be a beneficiary, too.

This is where things become complicated. The executor should be impartial to how the estate is handled. In fact, the executor’s only real task list is delivering probate documents, preserving the assets of the estate, paying the debts of the estate, providing a financial accounting of the executor’s dealings with the estate, and distributing the estate in accordance with the will or any court order. The executor is not required to defend the will if variation occurs.

Instead, the executor must remain neutral and leave the wills variation dispute to the involved parties. So long as the executor remains neutral during the court process, the executor can remain in his or her position.

Quirico v. Pepper Estate [1999] B.C.J. No. 2229: Duty of Neutrality 

The executor’s duty of neutrality was defined in Quirico v. Pepper Estate [1999] B.C.J. No. 2229. In this case, the Honourable Justice Bouck wrote the following:

“The primary duty of an executor is to preserve the assets of the estate, pay the debts, and distribute the balance to the beneficiaries entitled under the will or, in accordance with any order made under the Wills Variation Act. An executor should not pick sides between the beneficiaries and use estate funds to finance litigation on their behalf under the Wills Variation Act…”

“For all these reasons, the law anticipates the executor will remain impartial between the opposing beneficiaries. Where proceedings are taken under the Act, all the executor needs to do is appear at the trial if required, and deliver to the court the Letters Probate and financial documents showing the value of the estate…”

Because of this ruling, an executor who is also a beneficiary and wishes to defend the will must be very cautious. To avoid conflict of interest, the other beneficiaries may participate in the litigation, while the executor remains neutral.

Varying a will as an executor presents a conflict of interest. In these circumstances there will be a very complex legal battle,  requiring a team of experienced lawyers.

Biased Executor? Call Klein Lawyers

At Klein Lawyers, our estate litigation lawyers will review the will and navigate the legality of your wills variation claim. If there are concerns about the rationale behind the executor and their noncompliance with neutrality, we can help.

Contact Klein Lawyers at (604) 874-7171 or online today for a free, confidential case evaluation. Our wills variation lawyers serve clients throughout British Columbia from offices in Vancouver, Abbotsford, Burnaby, Coquitlam, Langley, and Surrey.