Best used where there are concerns over a lazy, negligent, recalcitrant or malign personal representative, there is a weapon in the armoury of an anxious beneficiary which is little used, but potent. That is an application that the Personal Representative provides an Inventory and Account of the estate administration.

It is a cardinal duty of Personal Representatives (the collective term for Executors where there is a Will and Administrators where no Will has been left) to keep accounts and records of their administration of the Estate and be ready with an Inventory and Account when called for.

Against a Personal Representative who refuses to provide details of the estate administration voluntarily, the process of applying for an Inventory and Account can prove relatively quick and cost effective compared to other remedies.

The concerned beneficiary can apply to the Probate Registry by summons for an Order that an Inventory and Account is given. Any person with an interest in the estate can apply. The summons will either be dealt with on paper, or following a hearing.

The jurisdiction of the court is discretionary, but in the recent case Ali v Taj [1] (judgment was handed down in February 2020) it was confirmed:

“The ambit of the discretion afforded the court under s 25 of the Administration of [Estates] Act 1925 is relatively narrow and that the court will ordinarily exercise its discretion in favour of ordering an inventory and account, the circumstances in which it will not do so being limited.”

The likelihood of an Inventory and Account being ordered is weighted in favour of the beneficiary if the Personal Representative cannot show that they have already provided sufficient information to the beneficiaries, or there is some other good reason why they should not have to.

Some interesting historic examples were referred to in the judgment, such as the Executor who had administered an estate whilst in India 21 years prior to the date of the hearing in 1812. He had returned to England and opposed an application to provide an Inventory and Account, principally because the papers had been left behind in India and retrieving them would be onerous. Nevertheless, he was ordered to provide one after being allowed sufficient time to try and retrieve them from the sub continent.

The facts of Ali v Taj were stark: the estate was potentially valued at £118M, and the Grant of Probate had been made nearly 11 years previous. However, the message was clear and of equal application to any estate: Personal Representatives must be ready to provide an account of the Estate administration, and if they are not, an order for an Inventory and Account is more likely than not if they refuse.

I anticipate we will see more applications in the future by beneficiaries anxious or concerned about the administration of an estate given this endorsement by the High Court and the increasing number of estates being administered by non-professional lay individuals.

[1] [2020] EWHC 213 (Fam)