Saturday, June 27, 2009

Feuding Executors: Wilson v. Heathcote

If you appoint two executors of your will to act together, it is important that you choose people who can work well together. If they don’t work well with one another, the likely result will be frustration and delay in the administration of your estate. What can be done about executors who won’t work well with each other?

Rudolf Martin had appointed Rick Wilson and John Heathcote as his executors and trustees. He appointed his accountant Ken Lee as his alternate executor and trustee in case either Mr. Wilson or Mr. Heathcote became unwilling or unable to act.

After Mr. Martin’s death on November 24, 2007, Mr. Wilson and Mr. Heathcote did agree to act as executors, and applied for and received a grant of probate of his will.

Unfortunately, there were a number of disagreements between them. Perhaps the most significant disagreements revolved around the handling of the sale of Mr. Martin’s apartment building. Mr. Heathcote wanted to deal early on with an offer to purchase the building. Mr. Wilson, on the other hand, wanted the building appraised and listed with a real estate agent to expose the apartment to the market.

There were further disagreements on how to handle the estate funds, with Mr. Wilson favouring handling funds through the executors’ lawyer’s trust account, and Mr. Heathcote favouring setting up an estate account managed directly by the executors.

The relationship between the executors was dysfunctional.

Mr. Wilson applied to the Supreme Court of British Columbia to remove Mr. Heathcote as a trustee.

Mr. Justice Cohen granted an order removing Mr. Heathcote and appointing Mr. Lee in his place in his decision in Wilson v. Heathcote, 2009 BCSC 554 . Although the court did not make any finding of misconduct, Mr. Justice Cohen held that “the Court may intervene to remove a trustee in circumstances where the relationship between trustees has deteriorated to such an extent that the proper and efficient administration of the trust is improbable, thus making removal necessary and expedient to protect the interests of the beneficiaries.”

He found that Mr. Heathcote’s manner and conduct, including making unsupported allegations that Mr. Wilson had acted improperly, were the major cause of the breakdown. Accordingly, Mr. Justice Cohen found that it was appropriate to remove Mr. Heathcote.

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