Intermeddling – How serious is it?
If an executor of a Will or the administrator (where there is no Will) begins the distribution of estate assets before a Grant has been issued, under Jersey law their actions can be classed as intermeddling.
Intermeddling is a criminal offence under Article 23 of the Probate (Jersey) Law 1998. This can include dealing with the deceased person’s bank accounts, selling or transferring chattels or other assets or settling their debts.
Intermeddling should be taken seriously.
When can the executor or administrator actually administer or distribute assets in an estate?
A Will of movable (personal) estate does not take effect until a Grant of Probate has been issued by the Royal Court of Jersey. This provides authorisation for an executor to administer the estate of the deceased. The appointed executor will swear on oath he/she/they will administer the estate according to law and that he/she/they will faithfully discharge the duties of the office of executor.
If the deceased did not leave a Will, it is for the heir(s) at law or other entitled person to apply for Letters of Administration. Until Letters of Administration are granted no one is entitled to administer the movable estate of the deceased.
The only steps that can be taken before the Grant has been issued are arrangements in relation to the funeral of the deceased and placing movable assets into safe custody with a purpose of preserving those.
Why is there an offence of intermeddling?
The offence of intermeddling was established with a view to protecting the deceased’s assets from being dissipated to persons who are not entitled to them and to prevent those who wish to avoid paying stamp duty on probate from doing so.
What is the penalty for intermeddling under Jersey law?
The person or institution committing the offence of intermeddling will be liable to a fine or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months, or to both.
There have been two recent prosecutions for the offence of intermeddling in Jersey. Both of these cases were brought by the Attorney General against two Jersey banks AG v Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank PJSC, Jersey Branch  JRC 192 and AG v Standard Bank Jersey Limited  JRC 156
The Royal Court of Jersey regards the offence of intermeddling as serious. Although in both cases the Court acknowledged that the withdrawals of funds from the deceased’s accounts were made with no intention to dissipate the estate to those not entitled to it and were a result of a genuine mistake, both banks were issued with substantial fines of tens of thousands of pounds.
It can be inferred that these fines were imposed to emphasize how important it is to follow the correct procedure in obtaining a Grant of Probate and to warn those dealing with estates that a failure to do so would result not only in a financial punishment but also a criminal record.
While these fines were against banks, the Royal Court could undoubtedly reflect a like punishment on a private individual who breaches the law.
What should you do if you are an executor and matters need to be attended to urgently?
One should be extremely careful when handling the deceased’s assets before a Grant has been issued, not only to avoid an intermeddling offence arising, but also in terms of stress and potential emotional damage to the family.
You should use all best efforts to collate an inventory of assets as soon as possible. If there is urgency to pay bills or issues to deal with (such as paying rent) write or call the claimant and explain the situation and request time to obtain probate. Thereafter endeavour to obtain probate or letters of administration as soon as possible to avoid the risk of intermeddling.
If you have any concerns about potential intermeddling or require assistance with a probate application, please contact Parslows Probate team who will be happy to discuss this with you further.