What happens if the wishes of a will are not carried out?

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What happens if the wishes of a will are not carried out?
Executors must follow a will's instructions (Jupiterimages/liquidlibrary/Getty Images)

Executors of wills have a legal duty to follow the instructions of a will unless those instructions aren't legally valid. If the executor does not do so, they might be personally liable for any resulting damage. In serious cases, a court may remove the executor's powers.

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The person or people the deceased has named as responsible for administering the will are known as executors. The assets left by the deceased are the estate. The people who receive money or other bequeathments through the will are known as beneficiaries. An executor can also be a beneficiary.

Legal responsibility

As well as having legal power to administer the estate in line with the will, the executors have the legal responsibility to do so. An executor can be held personally liable for any loss caused by not following the will's instructions. This applies even if the executor is acting "in good faith" and makes a mistake. This responsibility is one of the reasons that those making wills are always encouraged to get people's permission before naming them as an executor.

Initial action

Only the next of kin or named beneficiaries can take action if they believe an executor is not following the will's instructions. The first step is to request that the executor provide a written explanation of how they are administering the estate. This may clear up any confusion and misunderstanding, or it could encourage the executor to follow the instructions correctly, knowing they are being held to account.


If the executor continues to fail to administer the will properly, the only option is to ask a court to remove them as an executor. Unless the executor has been put in prison or deemed incapable because of physical or mental disability, the court will need to be persuaded the person is unsuitable. This only usually happens where the court is satisfied the person has carried out serious misconduct such as stealing from the estate or intentionally mismanaging the assets. The court in question is the one that issued probate, which is the legal confirmation that grants the executor the powers and responsibilities relating to the will. The removal process is covered by section 50 of the Administration of Justice Act 1985.

Legal constraints

In some cases, the executors may try to follow the instructions of the will, but be stopped from doing so for legal reasons. One example is if the will was signed by somebody who is a beneficiary: this does not make the will invalid but does mean that it must be treated as if it didn't mention the person, so he or he won't get the money or gift. Another example is where the bequeathed person's spouse or another financial dependent isn't left anything; this person can apply to the court to get some money, regardless of the will's contents. Finally, if everyone who is named as a beneficiary agrees, the court may agree to change who gets what, contrary to what the will says.

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