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What Is An Executor Of A Will?

In relation to wills and probate and the wishes of a recently deceased person, an executor is a person (or persons) named in the will, or appointed by the court, to carry out the legal responsibilities of that person. This means the undertaking of tasks such as settling any financial obligations, the sale of property, paying bills and taxes, distributing assets amongst beneficiaries and such. Most executors are family members: spouses, children and parents. Sometimes legal professionals can be appointed as executors.

Since it is likely that an executor will be someone with which the deceased shared a certain level of trust, you may be aware of what the deceased owned and the people they are likely to want to inherit this.

If you have been appointed as an executor of a persons will, here is a basic rundown of important duties you will have to carry out:

  • Make sure all the property owned by the person who’s died is safe and secure. This should be done as soon as possible.
  • Collect and make a valuation of all assets/money included in the estate of the person that has died.
  • Pay off any outstanding debts including taxes. This can be done with money from the estate.
  • Distribute the belongings/cash/estate to the people who are named as beneficiaries of the will.
  • You can claim expenses from the estate for the work you carry out. Solicitors can be a great help with your role as an executor.

Sometimes more than one person is named as an executor. If this is the case, you must all agree who will make the application for probate. Up to 4 people can apply. Every executor who applies for probate must make a legal declaration that all information given in the probate application is true. If only one executor applies, that person will need to prove they tried to contact all executors upon their application.

Executor Tasks

Apply for Probate

This is an important step as a grant of probate gives you the legal right to deal with someone’s estate when they die. First of all, check whether a grant of probate is actually needed. If the estate is particularly small, currently less than £5,000 (in England and Wales, or less than £10,000 in Northern Ireland), probate is not needed. In this case contact the bank and/or building society to ask whether they will release funds/let you carry out financial obligations without receiving a grant of probate.

If you are named as executor you can apply for probate yourself or use a solicitor to provide probate services. If there is no will you can apply for ‘letters of administration’ which will give you practically the same rights; you follow the same steps as applying for probate but you can only apply by post. We have a more fully comprehensive section on probate which will give you all the information you need about the entire process.

Your Job As Executor.

Performing the role of executor may involve many tasks. Some of them can be overlooked so we have compiled a list of things you might want to consider if you have been named as executor.

  • It might be down to you to inform family, friends and work colleagues of the person’s death. Some people put a notice in the local or national newspapers along with funeral details so people can attend if they wish.
  • You may need to register the death and get copies of the will; additional copies requested at a later date will be more expensive. Unless you’re using a solicitor to carry out probate, you may need a copy for different companies when you inform them of death (Banks, building societies etc…)
  • If necessary, notify the GP or nearest doctor of the deceased. This isn’t an official job of the executor but it might fall to you if there’s no one else who can.
  • Find the most up-to-date version of the will and obtain the original or a copy if that isn’t possible. You must provide this along with proof of your identity when informing organisations of the passing away of the deceased.
  • Any other executors must confirm in writing that they are happy for you to have the will.
  • Make copies of the will for co-executors and beneficiaries. Keep the original safe. Do not interfere with the original or even the copies in any way at all; this includes adding staples or paper clips.
  • It may be up to you to arrange the funeral. Check the will to find out any funeral wishes were made explicit.
  • If the deceased had a funeral plan, contact the funeral plan provider immediately. They will have a plan to set in motion and this could save you a lot of work. They will let you know how involved they will be in the funeral planning and this could free you up to carry out other jobs.
  • If there is an invoice for the funeral, you should take it to the deceased person’s bank or building society with the death certificate, the will and your identification. They should issue you with a cheque for the amount due and make it payable to the funeral director.
  • The executor needs to value the estate of the deceased. This includes everything that they owned at the time of death, including property, possessions and money. Any debts, such as a mortgage, loans and bills will be taken from this sum. Assets such as property or land should get a professional valuation. HMRC recommends having items worth over £500 valued professionally. The process of valuing the estate can take 6 to 9 months, or longer for big or complicated estates (for example if they involve trusts or there’s tax to pay).
  • If their property remains unoccupied, you should secure it and inform the insurers immediately. The estate itself may have to replace the person who’s died as the policy-holder. It is possible that the insurer may ask you to make regular checks on the condition of the property while it’s unoccupied. A new home insurance policy may have to be taken out if the current one doesn’t cover an empty property.
  • To stop postal deliveries to the property, contact the Bereavement Register.

Regarding Finances

  • Send an original death certificate to any asset holders including banks, building societies and insurance companies.
  • Ensure all direct debits are cancelled. Find out the balances of all accounts and investment values at the date of the death.
  • Contact HMRC to stop the payment pensions and state benefits. You might have done this at the time of registering death. Whichever comes first.
  • Advise the credit card accounts, passport, DVLA and TV licence of the death. The Tell Us Once service can help with contacting some of these departments in England and Wales. Read more about that in our guide on who to inform when someone dies.
  • Enquire about any debts owed by the person who’s died. This could include any overpayments made to them.
  • Check through their paperwork looking for bills or statements, then contact energy suppliers/local council to ask if all bills are up to date.
  • If you think there might be more debts than assets, the estate might be ‘insolvent’.
  • In that case you will need to seek professional help.
  • If you have not used the ‘Tell Us Once Service’, you will need to contact the deceased person’s tax office to find out whether any other tax is owed.
  • Some banks will offer you an executor’s account into which money money paid to the estate can be transferred.
  • Get clearance from HMRC for any IHT, Income Tax or Capital Gains Tax liability.

Distribute The Estate

The next step involved in being executor is to distribute the estate of the deceased. There are several things to bear in mind when you do so.These are the main tasks involved in distributing the estate of someone who’s died are:

  • If the will states that a specific people are to receive specific items, you can distribute them before probate is granted. Make sure you have the items valued.
  • When probate is granted, make an account of all the assets collected, income accrued and any bills paid.
  • If necessary, conduct bankruptcy searches on the beneficiaries. You can do this by searching the Individual Insolvency Register
  • Beneficiaries who are bankrupt may not be entitled to receive their inheritance.
  • Distribute the estate in accordance with the terms of the will. Make sure at least two trustees are named for any gifts left to beneficiaries under 18.
  • Some people choose to wait around six months after probate is granted before distributing the estate in case any claims are made against it.
  • Distribute R185 tax forms to all beneficiaries.

Inheritance Tax (IHT)

Rules surrounding Inheritance Tax:

  • IHT may have to be paid on the estate if it is valued at more than a certain amount. The threshold is currently £325,000 so if the estate is worth less than this, no IHT is owed.
  • If a house was left to children or grandchildren of the deceased, the tax-free allowance increases to £450,000. Beyond this, it will be taxed at 40%. In April 2019 this will increases to £475,000.
  • There is no IHT to pay on estates left to a spouse, civil partner or charity.
  • If one partner dies and has not used their tax-free allowance, this can be passed on to the surviving partner.This gives them a higher threshold of up to £900,000.
  • In April 2019 this increases to £950,000.
  • If you think there is a possibility of having to pay IHT, get a professional valuation on valuable items HMRC will request a detailed account along with valuations.
  • If the valuations are inaccurate, penalties will be issued.
  • List any major gifts made by the deceased person in the past seven years. These may be liable for IHT. Order an IHT form by calling the Probate and Inheritance Tax helpline, or download one.
  • You might need to arrange an ‘executor’s loan account’ with a bank to pay IHT.
  • Sometimes the deceased’s bank might release money to pay IHT without a loan arrangement.

Do I Have To Be Executor?

Being the executor of a person’s will is a big job with big responsibilities. Think carefully before accepting the role. If an executor refuses to take out the grant of probate, any substitute executor named in the will can step in and apply for the grant of probate or confirmation. If no executor has been named in the will or if the executor named cannot or doesn’t wish to act and no substitute executor is named, beneficiaries can apply to administer the estate.

However, once you have accepted the role and have begun carrying out your duties, you won’t be able to step down later on. Any claims against the estate made will have to be dealt with by you. You must carry out your duties correctly.

If you have accepted the role as executor but later change your mind, there are limited options but here are some things you can do:

  • If the person has not yet passed away, have a discussion with them so that they can change their will.
  • Immediately after the person has died, speak to the Probate Registry or a legal professional about your options.
  • Before you’ve begin dealing with the estate, complete a form of renunciation.
  • If you have already started to deal with the estate and have changed your mind, you cannot step down unless you have a good reason, such as ill health.
  • If you live in Northern Ireland, you can only appoint another person to act in your place if you are completely incapable of completing the role.

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