Mussell v Patience [2018] EWHC 430 (Ch)

Paramount Legal CostsIn this case, HHJ Matthews considered the correct legal test to be applied by the court in deciding whether to strike out an entry from estate accounts, and what information was required to be provided, by way of a voucher to support an entry in an executor’s account.

The case concerned the estate of Louis Patience, who died in 1997. The beneficiaries were his four adult children and his executors were his daughter, Anita Mussell, and his solicitor, David Williams. The executors duly obtained a grant of probate, and began to administer the estate.

However, before the assets were distributed, a dispute arose between the executors and two of the beneficiaries, Christopher and Veronica Patience. They objected to 26 payments contained in the estate accounts for legal services from two different law firms, on the basis that the entries in the estate accounts and the supporting documentation did not contain sufficient information to enable them to assess the reasonableness of the solicitors’ charges. Some invoices merely contained the name of the estate, the addressee of the invoice, a statement that the charge made consists of professional charges, and the amount due.

The executors maintained that they did not have to provide any further information although neither party was able to cite any case on the legal test for challenging an entry in an executor’s account.

HHJ Matthews looked for guidance in other sources, in particular Williams, Mortimer and Sunnucks’ Executors, Administrators and Probate, Daniell’s Chancery Practice, and s.31 and s.35 of the Trustee Act 2000.

He concluded that the executors did not need to justify at the outset that the vouchers were reasonably incurred or reasonable in amount – those were matters which may arise in the assessment of solicitors’ costs. Instead, an executor need only show that the sum concerned was indeed spent, and that it was spent in the fair execution of the estate administration. An executor should be able to show this by producing a voucher, but this need not disclose the number of hours worked or the hourly rate used to arrive at the total charged, or give a detailed breakdown of exactly what work was done. Accordingly, HHJ Matthews invited the two beneficiaries to reconsider their objections.

The full judgment can be read here

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