Gill Steel from LawSkills, offers her advice on the challenging issues and disputes between executors and beneficiaries.

Why are there a growing number of disputes?

The death of a person can be the catalyst for the unravelling of the sticky tape holding a family together.  Probate disputes are on the rise. There is a growing public interest in this field and more awareness of the ability to challenge a Will.

There is a considerable amount of wealth in the hands of a large section of the population because of home ownership which make litigating potentially worthwhile. Family relationships are more complex today.

Beneficiaries are no longer prepared to sit and wait for you to administer the estate – emotions can really take over – so keep a cool head and focus on legal objectivity.

What’s the problem?

Calming ‘upset’ clients is different from dealing with ‘difficult’ ones. When a reasonable person gets upset they may have momentary lapses of unreasonableness but basically that person is still rational and reasonable. By contrast difficult people have a psychological need to get attention by disruptive and negative means and they are chronically hard to communicate with.

The problem in probate and trust work is that our client is dead and they often times appointed us to be their executor or trustee. We have no choice in dealing with the beneficiaries, whether they are difficult or not – they come with the job.

In some cases we know in advance that the case will present us with handling difficult people because the testator/settlor warned us of this when asking us to act. It may be necessary for the protection of some or all of the beneficiaries to involve a professional whether or not the difficult person is happy with this. Of course, the fact that we are involved may of itself inflame a difficult person.

In other cases the challenge becomes apparent in the course of dealing with the client or the beneficiary that they are not just upset, due to bereavement for example, but also difficult!

Is the person upset or challenging?

It is necessary to practice Identifying upset people first & take action to try and reduce the upset. This should make dealing with that person easier and they will trust you more as a result of gaining their confidence and addressing the problems which upset them.

However, we also need to recognise the common causes of negativity in people: which may need a different approach. The psychologists might say these reasons may be what motivates a person, the state of their self-esteem and their attitude to life and what they regard as normal.

We can improve our interaction with challenging people by how we talk to them and involve them in finding practical solutions to problems not just legal solutions. We can also take care how we come across with our body language and tone of voice.

If you would like to learn more about these thoughts and possible techniques you may be interested in LawSkills course, run in conjunction with humantalk entitled ‘Dealing with challenging Executors and Beneficiaries and which aims to encourage practitioners to deal positively with challenging people in estate administration but to know the limits of practicality and so appreciate when more drastic steps need to be taken. To find out more contact or ring Sue Sheppard on 01962 776442.