An Executor is someone who is responsible for administering a person’s estate after their death. An Executor should be very organised, methodical and be able to quickly understand and deal with the various legal and practical
issues that will arise.
An Executor has an obligation to act in the best interests of the beneficiaries, even if the Executor is not entitled to receive anything under the terms of the will. Being an Executor can therefore be a selfless act, and it also carries a lot of responsibility. If something goes wrong, it is the Executor who will be held accountable.
Being an Executor can be a difficult role to undertake, and it can be emotionally challenging if the deceased is a family member, friend or other loved one.
When someone dies, one of the first things the family should do is check whether the deceased left a will. If there is a will, this will state who the executors are. The executors should be contacted and, if they are able and willing to act, the executors will begin their executor duties immediately.
Often a family member will register the death, but otherwise the Executor can do this, and will order several official copies of the death certificate.
Usually family members will organise the funeral, but the Executor will also have a duty to do this if for any reason the family have not done this. The will may contain specific wishes about how or where the funeral takes place.
There may be an immediate need to care for children and dependents. If there are any wishes in the will then the Executor will take steps very quickly to ensure these are followed and to arrange for appropriate care and safeguarding measures to be implemented. The Executor will become responsible for any pets and must arrange to rehome them.
The Executor should secure the property and arrange for a mail redirection. Other valuable or sentimental items will be collected and stored for safe keeping until the Executor is able to sell or gift these to the relevant beneficiaries. The Executor may also prepare any property for sale, such as arranging a house clearance, having the heating and electrical systems serviced and arranging an EPC certificate.
The Executor will need to report the death to government departments such as HM Revenue & Customs, the DVLA, Passport Office and the Department for Work and Pensions. The Executor should also tell anyone to whom the deceased owned money (such as mortgage lenders) and anyone holding the deceased’s assets (such as banks and building societies).
The Executor will need to work out the value of the deceased’s estate. This might require professional valuations, particularly if the deceased owned property. There are rules that state how certain items such as shares and investments are to be valued. If the deceased had a business, HMRC have a very comprehensive list of how a business should be valued and this should only be undertaken by a professional.
The value of the Estate will also determine whether Inheritance Tax is payable. The Executor will need to consider what exemptions and reliefs are available, depending on the deceased’s personal circumstances and the identity of the Beneficiaries. Once an Executor has established the value for tax purposes, certain forms need to be completed for HMRC showing the calculation of the values and exemptions used. The form needs to be completed even if no inheritance tax is due in order that HMRC are informed, and the Grant of Probate will not be issued until the form has been submitted.
The Executor will need to pay any Inheritance Tax due before a Grant of Probate will be issued. Assets such as property cannot usually be sold until a Grant of Probate has been issued, and so if the estate has mainly property assets and little cash, then there is a “catch-22” situation where there is insufficient cash to pay the tax. This situation may involve the Executor borrowing funds from a bank or third party to pay the tax. We can arrange this type funding if it is required.
The Executor will prepare the application for a Grant of Probate on the relevant form (there are several forms depending on the type of Grant being applied for) and submit it to the Probate Registry with the fee and an official copy of the death certificate, along with the other documents required to complete the application.
Once the Grant of Probate has been issued, the Executor can collect in any assets or transfer them to the beneficiaries. This will include selling or transferring any property, closing bank accounts, making claims on any life insurance policies, dealing with pensions. We collect all funds in a client bank account so that funds are ringfenced and secure.
The Executor will use the funds in the Estate to pay any debts that are due. There is often detailed work required to ascertain how much is due if there is uncertainty or dispute. It is important for the Executors to be robust and not be afraid to challenge any debts that they do not have evidence of.
The Executor can place notices in the London Gazette (a statutory newspaper) and newspapers local to where the deceased lived to inform any potential creditors of the death. Any distributions made before two months expires leaves Executors at risk of liability unless suitable indemnities are in place.
The Executor must prepare final estate accounts that detail all the funds received in and paid out. The accounts are sent to beneficiaries once the administration of the estate has been concluded.
Once assets have been converted into cash and the debts have been paid, the Executor can distribute the Estate to the Beneficiaries named in the Will. If a Beneficiary is missing, it is the Executor’s responsibility to find them. This may involve further investigation or even the use of a tracing or investigation company.
This is just an overview of the types of things an Executor typically must do.