High Court: Widow must be removed as administrator of deceased man’s €3.5m estate due to 13-year delay
The widow of a man who died in 2003 must be removed as the administratrix of his estate and appoint a firm of professional trustees in her place, the High Court has ruled.
Two daughters of the deceased brought the case to replace their mother as administratrix due to a number of inconsistencies in the administration of the estate, including the 13-year delay and her failure to gather consideration for the transfer of estate lands to two of her sons in 2009. Mr Justice David Keane granted the application under the Succession Act 1965, finding that each of the aforementioned reasons justified replacing an administratrix under the Act.
Ms Deirdre Muckian and Ms Mary McCann brought the action to remove their mother, Mrs Albina Hoey, as administratrix of their father’s estate and to appoint in her place a firm of professional trustees.
Mr Michael Hoey died intestate in October 2003, and his widow, Mrs Albina Hoey, was appointed as the administratrix and personal representative of his estate, having been granted letters of administration in May 2009 - five and a half years after his death.
At the time of his death, Mr Hoey had approximately €3m worth of property in both Northern Ireland and in the Republic of Ireland, in addition to approximately €650,000 in Irish bank accounts.
Proceedings in Northern Ireland
In May 2009, the High Court of Justice in Northern Ireland granted letters of administration of Mr Hoey’s estate in that jurisdiction to Mrs Hoey.
In March 2011, Ms Muckian and Ms McCann issued proceedings in the High Court of Justice in Northern Ireland, seeking an Order under Article 35 of the Wills and Administration Proceedings (Northern Ireland) Order 1994, removing Mrs Hoey as administratrix of that estate.
In his judgment, Justice Deeny identified a number of points of serious concern regarding the first respondent’s purported discharge of her duties as administratrix of her deceased husband’s estate in Northern Ireland. Justice Deeny acceded to that application and appointed a firm of professional trustees, Cleaver, Fulton and Rankin Trustees Limited, as administrator of the estate in place of Mrs Hoey.
The High Court
Ms Muckian and Ms McCann contended that Mrs Hoey had been guilty of excessive delay in the administration of the estate and misunderstood her obligations as administratrix by, amongst other things:
Mr Justice Keane criticised the “extraordinary delay” in the administration of the estate, given that Mr Hoey had been deceased for over twelve years. Justice Keane stated that the explanation given by Mrs Hoey was “too limited and too vague to be of any practical comfort or assistance”.
It was therefore held that a pronounced delay on the part of a personal representative in the administration of an estate could, alone or in combination with other factors, amount to a special circumstance warranting the removal and replacement of that person.
Failure to gather consideration
In response to Ms Muckian and Ms McCann’s complaint that Mrs Hoey transferred estate lands without gathering the consideration for those lands into the estate – Justice Keane stated that a failure by a personal representative to discharge the fundamental duty to collect and get in the estate and administer it according to law can, depending on the gravity or extent of that failure, whether alone or in combination with other factors, amount to a special circumstance warranting the removal and replacement of that person.
Justice Keane was satisfied that an administrator (or administratrix) may be replaced more readily in such circumstances than an executor (as per Dunne v Heffernan 3 IR 431).
Further, the delay and failure to gather consideration were both applicable in the circumstances and each demonstrated “a want of proper capacity” on the part of Mrs Hoey to execute the duties of administratrix, amounting to a special circumstance.
Considering those factors individually in this case, Justice Keane found that it was “appropriate, indeed necessary, by reference to each to replace Mrs Hoey as administrator” of Mr Hoey’s estate, and that it was “certainly necessary to do so on considering them in combination”.
In exercise of the power conferred on the Court by s. 27, sub-s. 2 of the Succession Act 1965, Justice Keane therefore revoked the grant of administration to Mrs Hoey and, in the special circumstances arising pursuant to s. 27, sub-s. 4 of the Succession Act 1965, he Ordered that administration of Mr Hoey’s estate be granted to Cleaver, Fulton and Rankin Trustees Limited.