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My corona! Executor's duties and coronavirus...

To Sell or Not to Sell?

The Impact of Coronavirus on an Executor Administering a Deceased’s Estate

  1. Introduction

The impact of the coronavirus has seemingly begun to permeate our everyday lives. Not only do we appear to be running out of toilet paper on an unprecedented scale, but we are beginning to feel the effects of disrupted supply chains, travel bans and potential school closures.

What may not be readily apparent, however, is that an executor administering a deceased’s estate may also be indirectly impacted by the spread of COVID-19.

  1. An Executor’s Duties During a Significant Global Event

A general principle exists whereby a year from the date of the deceased’s death is a reasonable time in which an executor should gather in the assets of the estate and distribute gifts to its beneficiaries. An executor may even incur personal liability for losses suffered as a result of undue delay.

But what if shares held by the deceased have suddenly and significantly decreased in value, triggered by, say, a possible pandemic? And what if the beneficiaries of the estate want to sell up ‘before it’s too late’?

  1. What is an Executor to do?

Well, the general principle is not absolute; it is subject to what is reasonable in the circumstances. As an executor, you are expected to use normal prudence and should consider obtaining expert advice on the timing of the disposal of shares or other estate assets that may be fluctuating in value. Wherever possible, you should keep proper records of advice received so that you can justify any delay in distributing estate assets and demonstrate that you are carrying out your duties with due diligence.

So, with a volatile stock market that recently saw its worst week since the 2008 financial crisis, executors should carefully consider their obligations in relation to the distribution of estate assets, particularly where shares are involved.

For advice in relation to your duties as an executor, please contact our Inheritance Law Team in (02) 6772 4899 or via

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