LAWLINK – How can I get my estranged brother to show me our late mother’s will?

last will and testament white printer paper
Photo by Melinda Gimpel on Unsplash

Q.  My brother and I unfortunately fell out some years ago and we have not spoken since. My mother died 11 months ago, and my estranged brother is executor of her estate. I have tried to make contact with him on several occasions to ask for a copy of my mother’s will, but he has refused to give me a copy. He has told me however that my mother left me the sum of €40,000. My brother refuses to give me any information as to what is happening with my mother’s estate and I still have not received what my brother told me I was left. The only thing he has told me to date is that my mother owed various people money and he needs to sort that out first. Is there anything to do to force my brother’s hand? I could badly do with the money now.

A. As your brother is the executor of your mother’s estate, he must find out the full extent of your mother’s debts to ensure that they are cleared before any bequests or payments to beneficiaries are paid, including the bequest which your mother left to you.

Your brother would be very unwise to attempt to distribute your mother’s estate until all of her debts have been identified, as he can in some circumstances be held personally liable for payment of these debts if he fails or overlooks to pay them.

It is a general rule of law that the executor (your brother) has a period of one year from the date of the testator’s death in which to complete administration of the estate. This means that your brother cannot be sued for his failure to complete the administration and distribute the estate within this 12-month period.

If your brother unreasonably delays in progressing the administration, or is in serious breach of his duties as executor, it is possible to bring an application to court to have him removed as executor and to have a replacement executor appointed in his stead. A court would have to be satisfied that there was serious misconduct on your brother’s part before agreeing to this.

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From what you state, as the 12-month period is not up and you don’t mention any serious breach, any application you might make would be premature.

As regard to your mother’s will, you are not legally entitled to a copy and your brother cannot be forced to give you one. You are however entitled to be provided with an extract from the will setting out your benefit. You should outline your concerns in writing to your brother and request that he make a copy of the entire will available and ask him to provide you with regular updates on the administration of the estate.

If you are still being kept in the dark, there are various applications that your solicitor can make to secure the missing information.