As a Victoria estates lawyer, I often get questions from beneficiaries regarding what estate-related information they are entitled to receive from the executor or administrator (also known as the “personal representative”).
A personal representative owes a duty to account to beneficiaries and others with an interest in the estate. This essentially means that they must provide information about the status of the estate and the work they have done in administering it. While there is a legal requirement for executors and administrators to have their accounts approved by beneficiaries and/or the court at certain intervals, they also need to be prepared to respond to inquiries from beneficiaries at any time.
To acknowledge their duty, when an executor or administrator applies for an estate grant, they must swear in an affidavit that they will administer the deceased’s estate according to law and be subject to the legal responsibility of a personal representative, which includes the duty to account.
Obligation to Pass Accounts
Although the personal representative can have the estate accounts approved by the court (known as “passing the accounts before the court”), in most cases, the beneficiaries will consent to the accounts. This avoids the time and expense of a court application.
If the beneficiaries are unwilling or unable to consent, then passing the accounts before the court will be necessary. This can happen where a beneficiary has serious concerns about the estate’s administration (for example, certain expenses that the executor incurred in the course of their duty), or does not agree with the fees that a personal representative wishes to charge for their work. Some beneficiaries are unable to consent to the estate accounts, including minors and beneficiaries that are incapable of managing their affairs.
The Estate Accounts
The information that must be contained in a personal representative’s formal accounting, or “statement of account affidavit” (as per form P40 of the Supreme Court Civil Rules) includes:
1. A statement of the assets and liabilities of the estate as at either the deceased’s date of death, or the end date of the last accounting approved by beneficiaries and/or the court,
2. A description of capital transactions for the time period in question, listed in chronological order,
3. A description of income transactions for the time period in question, listed in chronological order,
4. A statement of the assets and liabilities of the estate at the end date of the time period covered by the accounting,
5. A statement showing the proposed fees that the executor or administrator is claiming for their work with respect to the estate,
6. A statement setting out the distribution of the estate, including any previous distributions to beneficiaries and proposed future distributions.
The executor can also include any additional information that they feel is relevant or that may be important to the beneficiaries or the court.
If you have an interest in an estate and the executor is not providing you with an accounting or adequate information regarding their work administering the estate, it is important to consult with an estates lawyer to understand your rights and options for getting the information you are entitled to.