An executor of a will is appointed to handle an individual’s estate after they die.
The ‘estate’ covers all of the deceased’s assets or belongings – money, property, possessions, and even debts.
When a friend or family member asks you to be the executor (known as ‘executor nominate’ in Scotland) of their will, it will be important to understand what the role entails.
Who can be an executor of a will?
Anyone who is over 18 years of age can be appointed as the executor of a will. Many people choose their partner or children, or a friend.
It is also possible to appoint a professional to act as executor, such as a solicitor.
There are no real rules about who can’t be an executor but there are guidelines further down the line about disqualification of an executor if they are not fulfilling their duties or are abusing their position.
What are an executor’s duties and responsibilities?
An executor’s duties and responsibilities cover the following areas:
- Handle the initial arrangements.
- Value the estate.
- Find out whether inheritance tax is applicable, and if so, pay it.
- Apply for probate.
- Distribute the estate.
Handle the initial arrangements
The first thing you should do is ensure that you have the most up-to-date will to hand and that you are named as an executor in the will. If you’re unsure whether you have the more recent version of the will, contact the deceased’s solicitor to check.
A close relative may have already registered the death, or this task may fall to you. If so, contact the local registrar’s office.
Again, a close relative may have already arranged the funeral but if not, this is down to you. Check the will for any instructions left by the deceased about their funeral.
There may have been a funeral policy or some other related insurance in place to pay for the funeral. Either you or a close family member should contact the relevant company to make a claim against the policy, though note the policy may not pay out until after the funeral payment is due.
Regardless of whether there is a policy in place, if you arrange the funeral then you will have to cover the costs for the time being. However, you should be able to claim back these expenses from the estate.
Value the estate
To place a value on the deceased’s estate, you need to work out what the deceased owned and what debts they had.
To do this, you will need information relating to their:
- bank or building society accounts
- life insurance policy
- utility providers (electricity, water, etc.)
- mortgage provider
- investment and shares owned
- debts and any other creditors the deceased owed money to
A copy of the death certificate should be forwarded to each relevant organisation, such as pension provider, bank or employer.
You’ll also need to make a record of belongings (with details of any items worth more than £500) and have any property belonging to the deceased valued.
There may be inheritance tax to pay, depending on how much the estate is worth.
If inheritance tax is due, then use form IHT400. Payment must be made no later than six months after the date of death. The amount of inheritance tax due must be paid, at least partially, before probate can be granted.
If no inheritance tax is to be paid, complete form IHT205.
Both forms can be downloaded from the HMRC website.
Apply for probate
It’s generally necessary for probate to be granted before the estate can be distributed to any heirs but there are some exceptions.
If an item or property is jointly owned by the deceased and one or more other individuals, such as a joint bank account or a property, then that item can pass on to the remaining owners before probate is granted.
You can apply for probate by completing form PA1 (or form C1 in Scotland) and sending it to your local probate registry, with the inheritance tax form (if relevant), any supporting documents and the application fee.
Supporting documents may include, but are not limited to,
- the original will and three copies, with any codicils (a document separate to but used in conjunction with the will that states amendments made to the will)
- an official copy of the death certificate
- divorce decree absolute, if relevant
The application fee is currently £215 but for estates with a value under £5,000, there is no fee. Payment should be made by cheque payable to HM Courts and Tribunals Service.
An oath will be forwarded to you. You will be required to swear this oath in the presence of a solicitor or at your local probate office.
Once this is done, probate will be granted.
Distribute the estate
Once probate has been granted and received (usually by post), it is your responsibility to send copies to any organisation holding money on behalf of the deceased, such as their bank, and ask them to release that money. Photocopies may not be acceptable, so you may need official copies from the probate registry.
It may prove helpful to open an executor bank account for any estate monies to be paid into.
When you have collected the money, the next step is to pay any debts of the deceased.
Anything left after this – money, possessions, property – should be distributed in accordance with the will.
You should then complete the estate accounts, that is, put together a record of everything that has been collected on behalf of the deceased’s estate, such as money from bank accounts or life insurance policies, and everything that has been paid out. These accounts should then be examined, approved and signed by any beneficiaries, ie those who have received assets from the estate.
How will anyone know that I’ve been appointed as an executor?
Generally, the identity of any executor will be stated in a will.
Can there be more than one executor?
Yes, there may be more than one executor.
The executors should communicate or meet regularly to discuss progress and the sharing out of tasks. Anything that is agreed should be written down and signed by all of the executors.
Any official documents and paperwork should be signed by all of the executors.
In Scotland, the application for confirmation (the Scottish equivalent of probate) need only be signed by one executor.
If I’m appointed as executor, can I benefit from the will?
Yes, being an executor of a will does not exclude you from benefitting from that will, however, you must treat all beneficiaries, including yourself, equally and fairly.
Is the executor paid?
Executors may recover any expenses they incur in administrating the will from the estate.
Appointing a professional executor will incur cost, which may be on an hourly rate for example or as a percentage of the estate value.
How legal advice can help
The process for administering a will, from making the initial arrangements, to valuing the estate, handling inheritance tax, seeking a grant of probate, and distributing the estate can be extensive, costly and complicated.
Whether it is to obtain the relevant documents to communicating with a bank or the HMRC, having the right legal advice in place can greatly assist you in your role as executor by guiding you through then entire process.