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My elderly relative died in December 2018. Her gardener has now (January 2019) sent us an itemised invoice. The items begin in March 2018 and end in November (my relative last left the house in October to go to hospital). The total amount demanded is £700.

When we visited in January the garden was tidy and had clearly been worked on recently. We have no reason to think there was any dispute existing between them, and my relative was old but of sound mind.

Location: England, UK.

The problems:

  • We do not believe that our relative would have left the bill unpaid for so long (7 months).
  • We do not know what previous demands or payments were made, or when.
  • There is no way of knowing whether the work was actually done, except for the most recent.
  • We have not (yet) found any written records of previous invoices, receipts or payments (from before or after March 2018).
  • Not immediately relevant but aggravating: the charges are very high considering the work and the part of the country.

The questions:

  • Is the executor legally obliged to pay? If he chooses not to, what could happen?

  • Normally, not paying would risk a county court judgment against the debtor. What happens if that person is deceased - will the judgment be against the executor?

I am in favour of paying only the final item (a very expensive £120 "garden tidy") as we can verify this was done.

11

Dead people have to pay their debts just like everybody else

It is one of the primary roles of the executor to make sure this happens.

Dead people can dispute a debt just like everybody else

Just because someone says you owe them money, that doesn't mean you owe them money.

In fact, the onus of proving the debt lies with the person claiming the money. It is perfectly reasonable for an executor to ask the creditor to do so.

Some questions that are appropriate to ask:

  • Presumably, the entitlement arises under a contract; when was the contract entered into?
  • What were its terms?
  • Where is the evidence the deceased agreed to these terms?
  • Do the terms comply with (consumer) law?
  • Have the prices been calculated in accordance with the terms?
  • Have previous invoices been submitted and paid on the same basis?
  • All the issues you mentioned.

These are all things the creditor would need to prove if they went to court.

If they can provide satisfactory answers to these then pay the bill. If they can't then try to agree to a settlement amount acceptable to both parties. If you can't do that, let them sue the estate and let a judge decide.

The debts of the deceased person are payable by the estate of the deceased person for which the executor is the trustee. The executor has a duty to the beneficiaries of the estate to act in their best interest. This means paying bills that they are satisfied are justified, contesting those that aren't but ultimately, making commercial decisions that benefit the beneficiaries. Getting bogged down in a court case may not be in their best interest especially if it delays finalisation of the estate.

In any event, the executor is not liable personally for the debt, or for anything they do or fail to do if done or not done in good faith.

  • Thanks, that is very helpful. We are still looking for written records. It is a difficult situation as the creditor probably can't prove anything and we are rather suspicious of the whole arrangement. However, we don't want to deprive someone of their legitimate earnings. – Mr Central Feb 5 at 9:02

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