A warning as to the cost consequences of not providing estate accounts
Whilst mindful of the duties they owe to the estate, it would seem easier for some busy probate practitioners to occasionally ignore or sometimes rebuff the requests of beneficiaries to see the estate accounts. Is this ever a good idea?
The answer came in in the case of RNLI and others v. Headley & McCole  EWHC 1948 (Ch). The court found that it was not reasonable for the claimant beneficiaries, who only had an eventual capital interest in the estate, to ask for estate accounts which also provide details of estate income. With that proviso, however, the court agreed with Millett LJ in Armitage v. Nurse  Ch 241,261, CA in that “every beneficiary is entitled to see the trust accounts, whether his interest is in possession or not.”
Despite repeated and exhaustive requests and a letter of claim, no further accounts arrived. The claimant beneficiaries therefore issued proceedings in 2016.
In this case there was, on the defendant trustee’s part, a “quite unwarranted” and “long and egregious refusal to engage at all with the claimants.” Notwithstanding the fact that the claimant was to a minor degree unsuccessful in also seeking accounts as to income, the defendant was ordered to pay the claimants’ costs: on the standard and not indemnity basis, but pointedly the Master commented that was all he was asked to do.
The defendant trustee was also prohibited from seeking reimbursement of those costs out of the estate, because “in failing to account to the [beneficiaries] for so many years [he] acted for a benefit other than that of the estate”. This is certainly worth bearing in mind next time a beneficiary asks to view an estate account!
The moral of this article: Provide full and timely estate accounts- you know it makes sense!