The recent case of Liu v Matyas [2020] EWHC 2807 (Ch) concerned international probate and the appointment of a professional executor to administer the estate of a deceased individual with cross border assets.

The background

The deceased man, Huan Liu (H), had appointed his partner of 14 years, Mr Tibor Matyas (T), as well as his China-based brother, Mr Pu Lui (P), to be the executors of his £920,000 international estate. However, it was later agreed that it would be prudent to appoint an independent professional executor as questions of executorship were complicated by the fact that T had a number of claims against his late partner’s estate.

P issued a Part 8 claim against T on that basis, asking him to be removed from his role as executor. However, as T and P were unable to agree who to appoint as a professional executor, they applied to have the question settled by the courts.

The court hearing

P and T presented arguments in favour of their respective probate solicitor choices, with P's chosen representative a London-based specialist and T’s based in High Wycombe. However, as the two probate solicitors concerned were, on the surface, very similar in expertise, experience and reputation, the court had to consider, as well as these qualities, the following:

  • Experience of contentious probate
  • Experience of contentious international probate
  • Availability
  • Locality
  • Unique factors
  • Trust administration experience
  • The costs of the respective probate solicitors
  • The wishes of the beneficiaries

The findings

The judge hearing the case at the High Court found that the two professional executors were remarkably similar in nearly all of the criteria listed above. The only exception concerned grounds of cost, with one executor charging an hourly rate of £490 plus VAT and the other charging a comparatively cheap £250 plus VAT.

The court further found that the sole reason for this difference was the fact that the more expensive of the two probate solicitors operated from a London firm where it is normal for solicitors to charge their clients higher rates. As such, the court decided to appoint the cheaper of the two (T’s probate solicitor).

The implications

Liu v Matyas goes some way to explaining how courts will decide when being asked to choose between two professional executors.

However, Deputy Master Linwood also said that “hourly rates are not the be all and end all in such circumstances.”

Interestingly, although the judge stated that there was an “international dimension” to the disputed probate case, neither of the chosen solicitors spoke Cantonese or Mandarin.

Despite finding in favour of T, the judge ordered him to pay all the costs involved as he had made groundless allegations of fraud and authored a “huge amount of intemperate correspondence” in relation to the dispute.