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3 July 2013 | Comment | Article by Roman Kubiak TEP

Theft of estate assets results in criminal conviction for beneficiary

Roman considers the case of Caroline Woodhouse who has just received a four month prison sentence by claiming her brother’s estate had no money and transferring the money to her own bank.

As a solicitor in a busy Private Wealth Disputes team, I regularly help clients who are looking to reclaim misappropriated estate assets or who are in a dispute with co-executors and beneficiaries about the distribution of an estate.

Sadly, all too often such disputes are between siblings and the recent case in today’s Hull Daily Mail which was brought to my attention by a colleague, illustrates the dangers where beneficiaries or executors simply choose to ignore the law.

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In this case, Caroline Woodhouse, sister of Ian Woodhouse, deceased, has just received a four month prison sentence, suspended for 18 months, after clearing out her brother’s bank accounts and redeeming his insurance policy just days after his funeral. Mr Woodhouse had other sisters and it appears, therefore, that his estate ought to have been split between all the siblings.

The rules regarding the administration of an estate are set out in the Administration of Estates Act 1925 and, specifically, section 25 sets out the duties of an executor. In the present case it appears that Mrs Woodhouse not only acted in breach of any duties she may have owed to the estate and its beneficiaries as an executor but, in appropriating these assets, she was also guilty of theft.

From my own experience, I find that some people assume that they have a right to a loved one’s assets based simply on what the deceased may have said to them before they died. However, unless those wishes are set out in a validly executed will then any attempt to obtain estate assets may constitute a criminal offence as well as a claim for breach of fiduciary duty.

This case therefore acts as a stark reminder to any unscrupulous or misinformed beneficiaries or executors to think twice before taking the law in their own hands.

Author bio

Roman Kubiak TEP


Roman Kubiak is a Partner and Head of the market leading Private Wealth Disputes team.

He advises across the whole spectrum of private wealth disputes, with a particular focus on high value, complex and cross-border disputes including: trust disputes, breach of trust claims and applications to remove trustees; will disputes, particularly those with an international element; claims under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975; and claims for equitable relief under proprietary estoppel, constructive trusts and resulting trusts.

Disclaimer: The information on the Hugh James website is for general information only and reflects the position at the date of publication. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be treated as such. If you would like to ensure the commentary reflects current legislation, case law or best practice, please contact the blog author.


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