Although it is an established tenant of estate administration law in British Columbia that an executor has their “executor’s year” before they must start distributing the estate, a recent decision from the Supreme Court of British Columbia has considered the ability of the court to force an executor to make interim distributions of the estate, once that year is up. In the case of Reznik v. Matty, three siblings sought an order against their brother, who was the executor and trustee of their father’s estate. Their father, Phillip Matty, died in December, 2000 and the petitioning siblings were requesting an order from the court that compelled the executor and trustee to distribute an amount of around $15,000 – $20,000 to each of the four beneficiaries of Phillip Matty’s estate.
The estate in question held a reasonable amount of assets, including approximately $96,000 in cash and was the sole shareholder in a company which owns three vacant lots on Passage Island. Those lots were listed for sale for approximately $560,000.
The court considered the arguments of the respondent executor and trustee of the court’s lack of jurisdiction to make such an order. The respondent argued that the only remedy for the petitioners is to apply for the respondent to be removed as the executor.
The petitioners argued that the “power of advancement” should compel the respondent to make an interim distribution. This is when a gift under a will can be paid to a beneficiary before they are of age due to their needs. However, there was no evidence that this applied. The second argument from the petitioners was that the assent of the estate may be compelled when it is withheld without just cause. This was the argument that prevailed. An assent is when there is an acknowledgement by the personal representative that an asset is no longer required for the payment of the debts of the estate.
The court decided that there was no good reason to withhold a distribution from the estate and ordered a distribution of $40,000, comprising of $10,000 to each beneficiary (of which the respondent was one). The respondent was also ordered to cover the costs of the proceedings himself and was not able to use the estate funds to cover such costs.
This case sets a precedent for beneficiaries to be able to compel the distribution of assets from the executor through court proceedings. Special consideration should be made to the specific facts of this case, in particular the fact that the estate had remained undistributed (apart from one other interim distribution to the beneficiaries) for more than 10 years.