What Does An Executor Have To Do?

An Executor is a person appointed under a Will and is responsible for finalising the Will writer’s estate after their death.

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By Nicola Briggs - 18th May 2021

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Every Will should name an Executor. Between one and four Executors can be named. If there are children under the age of 18 who are likely to benefit under the Will, then it is customary to appoint at least two Executors. The choice of Executor is important. They must be capable of dealing with paperwork, be responsible and trustworthy and not be so old that they cannot see the administration through, because they have either passed away themselves or lost their mental capacity.

Executor duties

An Executor’s duties begin when the person who wrote the Will dies.

Locate the Will

It is important that an Executor knows they have been appointed, because they will need to locate the original Will and take steps immediately to secure the deceased person’s assets, locate the beneficiaries and take possession of relevant documentation.

An Executor must be sure that they are dealing with the most recent Will. Difficulties can arise where they take action based on the Will in front of them, but a later Will is discovered appointing a completely different person as Executor. You may be certain this is the last Will before you because you took your relative to the solicitor’s appointment, but in the case of Wills that were written in the 1980s and 1990s there is a greater risk that there is another more recent Will.

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Secure assets

When the Executor has been identified, their first job will be to check that the house is insured and that family members are not helping themselves to things in the house.

Value the estate

Next, the Executor needs to value the deceased’s estate. Not only do the assets within the estate have to be ascertained and valued, but also the debts need to be quantified, to include any income tax or capital gains tax that has not been paid up to the date of death. It is helpful if an Executor knows the name of the deceased’s accountant or financial adviser so that information needed for the inheritance tax account and application for probate can be readily identified.

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Apply for a Grant of Probate

If a Grant of Probate is needed, then the Executor’s next task is to submit an application to the Probate Registry. This involves completing various forms, and submitting them alongside the deceased’s Will and death certificate. There is also a Probate Registry fee to pay. Any inheritance tax that is due must be paid before the Grant is issued.

Open an Executor’s bank account

An Executor has to consider where they should place the money that they collect in, pending final distribution. Money within the estate should not be mixed with the Executor’s personal money, which is why an executor’s bank account should be opened.

One of the many advantages of the Executor employing a solicitor is that the estate will have use of the solicitor’s client account, where the estate monies, which are in effect trust monies, can be placed. We have, on occasions, had to unpick an Executor’s personal bank account to identify which income receipts truly belonged to the estate, and therefore which should be entered onto the tax return for the administration.

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Administering the estate

Once a Grant of Probate has been obtained, the Executor is allowed to administer the deceased’s estate. This involves gathering in and selling the assets, paying off debts, advertising for creditors and locating the beneficiaries. Only once all this has been done can the Executor distribute the assets to the beneficiaries named in the Will.

The administration of an estate can take up to two years. Estates that are administered too quickly run the risk of debts being discovered after the assets have been distributed. In this case, where an Executor has not properly identified the debts, they could incur some personal liability and be left with trying to reclaim the amount from the beneficiaries who they paid too early. Those beneficiaries may not have the money to hand as they may have spent it or they live abroad and are impossible to find.

There is no fixed time within which an administration should be completed. Where money has been left to children at the age of 25 and they are only two at the date of death, there could be another 23 years of responsibility in managing money until that child attains the age at which they become entitled.

Estate accounts

Finally, an Executor needs to maintain records of all transactions to achieve transparency in the event of the beneficiaries raising queries. Solicitors will naturally retain these records as they are required to do by the Solicitors Regulation Authority. It is not open to an Executor to say they did not know the law. The Executor owes a duty of care to the beneficiaries to manage the estate efficiently.

For this reason, we recommend that all Executors seek professional advice, either with a view to employing a solicitor to conduct the administration or to ask specific questions during the administration process. That way, the Executor avoids becoming liable for underpaid inheritance tax or claims by creditors, of which they should have been aware.

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Handling disputes

Disputes may arise between beneficiaries in which case the Executor becomes the pig in the middle. In these circumstances, it is recommended that the disputing beneficiaries appoint separate solicitors, whilst the Executor holds the money pending the resolution of the dispute.

Can an Executor ask a solicitor to help?

An Executor is free to request the assistance of a solicitor during the probate and estate administration process. Some Wills try to tie an Executor down to using a particular firm of solicitors. Ultimately, if the Executor feels they cannot work with that firm, or wishes to select their own, the first named firm will accept this. No solicitor wishes to work with clients who feel that their choice of professional adviser has been restricted.

Speak to our wills solicitors

If you are an Executor and you would like help with the probate and estate administration process, contact us at Aticus Law.

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