This website uses cookies

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience. By using our website, you agree to our Privacy Policy

Suzanne Townley

News Editor, Solicitors Journal

Clark Willmott issues warning after executor jailed

Clark Willmott issues warning after executor jailed


He was imprisoned after he 'buried his head in the sand'

National law firm Clarke Willmott has advised of the importance of seeking legal advice when acting as the executor of an estate “before things go wrong” after a man was jailed for failing to fulfil his duties.

Carolyn Watson, private client solicitor at Clarke Wilmott, said acting as an executor is sometimes straightforward; however, it can very quickly become confusing, convoluted and time-consuming.

She explained executors – those responsible for administering a deceased person’s estate – have a range of responsibilities that kick in when a person dies. These include: 

  • organising the payment of any tax due, such as inheritance and income tax 
  • applying for any applicable tax reliefs 
  • paying the deceased’s liabilities  
  • identifying and collecting in all the assets 
  • locating the correct beneficiaries 
  • applying for a grant of probate (if required) 
  • distributing the estate to the beneficiaries in accordance with the deceased’s will. 

Watson said failure to perform these obligations can leave an executor personally liable for matters concerning the deceased’s estate. Furthermore, it is incredibly important an executor fulfils their duties, or they could find themselves being subject to serious penalties.  

This case concerned the estate of Hazel Totton, who died in July 2019. She left a will and appointed her son, Mark Totton, as executor. She left half her estate to him and the other half to her grandchildren, Hollie Totton and Daniel Washer, Mark’s niece and nephew.  

The primary asset in the deceased’s estate was her house, which sold in April 2020 for £425,000. To date, Hollie and Daniel have still not received the inheritance they are entitled to and Mark Totton has failed to account for their inheritance.  

Hollie and Daniel’s solicitors wrote to Mark over an eight-month period and requested him to administer and distribute the estate. No reply was received to any of these letters. Hollie contacted Mark via telephone calls and texts to enquire when she and Daniel would receive their inheritance. In October 2020, Mark advised Hollie they would receive their inheritance “within days”.  

In April 2021, Hollie and Daniel brought a claim against Mark and called for a full account of the deceased’s estate and for the same to be distributed. After Mark took no action, the court made an order in March this year, which directed him to provide a full account of the deceased’s assets and their location to Hollie and Daniel’s solicitors within three weeks. Again, he failed to take any action.  

The court produced further official documents in August which were similarly ignored and Mark failed to attend subsequent court hearings later that month, and then again in September.  

A warrant was executed and Mark was brought before the court on 15 September. The court provided him with several opportunities to comply with his duties as executor – namely, to correctly distribute the estate. He admitted he had “buried his head in the sand” regarding the administration of the estate and received a four-month prison sentence. The court gave one final deadline, and stated the jail term would not take effect, so long as the estate was distributed by 6 October.  

The following day, Mark was jailed for six weeks for contempt of court, after he failed to comply with the judge’s order to set out the assets of the estate within a certain time frame and to give a full account of his dealings with it.  

The court also noted he had not instructed solicitors to assist him with his duties, which would have likely prevented proceedings being brought against him.