When you draw up a will, part of the process is to appoint an executor or executors who are tasked with the responsibility of managing your estate when you die. In most cases, it is recommended you choose more than one executor.
Being asked to be an executor of a will is a role that may be asked of you but before you agree, knowing the duties you will need to carry out as an executor, as well as an understanding of the legal responsibilities is important. It can be a daunting, challenging and time-consuming role that shouldn’t be taken lightly.
What is an executor?
An executor of a will is the person that will handle the probate process and estate of someone that has died, ensuring all matters are dealt with and the deceased’s wishes have been carried out. The role will include:
- Registering the death and applying for probate.
- Arranging for the deceased’s estate to be valued for tax purposes.
- Paying any inheritance tax due, as well as ensuring other bills are paid.
- Recording all transactions and managing the estate’s accounts.
- Distributing the estate’s assets in accordance with the deceased’s wishes.
But these are only part of the process; an executor’s duties are far more involved.
The executor’s duties
The role of an executor can be emotionally tough, as well as difficult practically. The duties of an executor involve:
- Register the death – this is not always something the executor needs to do as the surviving spouse or a member of the family may have already done this. However, you will need to get copies of the death certificate to send to the deceased’s bank(s) and/or building societies(s), credit card companies, insurance providers, utility providers and HMRC.
- The deceased’s will – you will need to locate the deceased’s will, which may be held at their home, with their bank or with their solicitor. Make several copies as you will need them in the future.
- Apply for probate – applying for probate as early as possible, which can be done online although you will need to send certain documentation, such as a copy of the will and death certificate, in the post. If you’re not sure about filling in the probate forms, always ask for help. Specialist probate solicitors will ensure that the information you provide is accurate – making a mistake or missing out some information could delay the probate process
- Financial documentation – gather all of the deceased’s financial documentation, such as bank/building society statements, insurance policies and final utility bills.
- Opening a bank account – you will be paying off final utility bills, paying for the probate and managing a range of other financial matters. Therefore, open a bank account on behalf of the deceased’s estate. Firstly, you won’t end up mixing your executor finances with your own personal finances, and you will also be able to keep a better track of estate transactions, thereby making the process of submitting final accounts much
- Secure the property – if the deceased had their own property, and lived alone, make sure the property is secured, kept maintained and arrange for any post to be forwarded to you (or to collect from the local post office). If there is a surviving spouse, they will continue to live in the property. However, it may be that you are an executor for someone that had more than one property. If any of them are not occupied, make sure they are secured and maintained.
- Collect the deceased’s assets – make a list of all the deceased’s assets, tangible and intangible, including any insurance life policies, money in any bank or building society accounts.
- Value assets (if needed) – in some incidents, the value of the estate will fall below the inheritance tax threshold; in some cases, it won’t. However, you will need to know the value of the deceased’s estate for tax purposes. Some assets, such as property, artwork or jewellery, will need to be valued by experts. To determine the average value of other assets, you will be able to search online for comparables but always remember that if the item online is for a new item, you will need to take off a certain percentage for a second-hand item.
- Sell the property – unless the deceased’s property has been left to beneficiaries, arrange for the property to be marketed and sold by a local estate agent, or via a property auction. The proceeds from the sale will be shared between the beneficiaries or to others, depending on the deceased’s wishes. You may also be in the position of selling other assets belonging to the deceased. Investigate the right method to use to sell the assets; you may go through a professional, such as a jeweller or car sales company, or you may find it better to sell via an auction.
- Complete tax forms – liaise with HMRC and complete the relevant inheritance tax return forms to submit to HMRC. New regulations in 2022 mean that if the value of the estate falls below the IHT threshold, currently £325,000, executors do not need to complete and submit IHT returns. Instead, a declaration that confirms the value of the estate as part of the probate process is now required. If the deceased had properties that are rented out to tenants, you may have to complete capital gains tax forms for the rental income. In addition, if an asset belonging to the deceased increases in value during the probate process – this sometimes happens if the probate process is taking a long time – you may have to pay income tax on the difference between the original and new monetary value.
- Distribute the estate to beneficiaries – according to the deceased’s wishes; distribute the assets of the estate to the beneficiaries.
Being an executor of an estate is an important role and can be complex. If you’re not sure about any aspects of the role, always ask a probate specialist for advice.
At Norfolk Will Writing, we have been helping our clients write their wills and assist executors of estates manage the probate process for over 20 years. We offer a personalised service, keeping the process as simple and easy as possible. Our experienced consultants are on hand to guide you at every step. Contact us for your free consultation and to book an appointment with one of our consultants to discuss writing your will today or carrying out your executor duties.