As a beneficiary, what can I do if I’m not satisfied with the estate accounts?

The executor just asked me to approve her estate accounts. What should I be looking out for? And what can I do if I don’t want to approve the accounts?

Kendall

Kendall

Coquitlam, BC

The law says that a personal representative must get their estate accounts approved by the court. This formal process is called passing accounts. The personal representative must do this unless all the beneficiaries approve their accounts in writing. 

When an executor asks you to approve their accounts, they’ll send you a copy of the final accounts for review. They’ll probably also ask you to sign a consent and release form.

Typically, these forms ask beneficiaries to approve the accounts and waive the requirement to pass the accounts before the court. The forms also usually ask a beneficiary to release the executor from any future legal claims that the beneficiary could have made in relation to the estate.

Read the consent and release form carefully. If it seems to overly favour the executor’s interests over yours, consider getting a lawyer to look at it.

You can ask for an explanation

If anything in the accounts doesn’t sit well with you, it’s your right to ask for an explanation. Here are some things to look out for:

  • unreasonable expenses, withdrawals or costs with vague descriptions, personal expenses, unexplained discrepancies

  • incomplete records, missing assets, estate income that’s not accounted for

  • decisions made by the executor that seem suspect or unreasonable

  • the executor’s fees seem too high for the work done or exceed the typical range (0-5% of the gross value of estate assets)

You can simply ask the personal representative to explain anything that’s not adding up. They may be able to show you receipts or documents that satisfy you. If you still have concerns, you can opt not to sign the release. You can then raise the issues with the court.

You can compel the executor to pass accounts

If you don’t approve the accounts, the executor will have to get them approved by the court. This will likely cause a delay in you (and others) getting their inheritance. (It’s not a great idea to force a passing of accounts if you don’t have good reasons for doing so. If the court finds that you caused unnecessary expense to the estate, you may have to pay for some of the related legal costs.)

The executor can apply to pass their own accounts. If they don’t, you can also start the process. You do this by filing a notice of application with the court within the existing probate file. This is usually done with form 32. (If there’s no existing court proceeding, you can start the process by petition.) At the same time, you must file an affidavit (form 109) explaining why an accounting is required. The forms can be found here.

You’ll need to give notice of the application to the personal representative. You’ll also need to give it to anyone else who may be affected by the orders you’re seeking. This will typically include other beneficiaries. Include copies of any other application materials when you send the notice.

The venue and procedure for passing accounts will differ depending on the issues at hand. If further inquiry is needed, the court may refer the matter to a registrar. Here's information on the process. Before a hearing takes place, you’ll have to file and serve on all parties a notice of the alleged errors or omissions in the accounts. Describe each item in the accounts that you take issue with. Be specific. You’ll also need to be clear about the adjustments you’re asking the court to make.

More on accounting to beneficiaries

You can learn more about a personal representative’s duty to account to beneficiaries.

Kevin Smith

Kevin Smith

Retired lawyer and consultant
  • This information applies to British Columbia, Canada
  • Reviewed for legal accuracy in September 2022

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