When someone dies, many people assume that their ‘next of kin’ will sort out their affairs (called in legal jargon ‘administering the estate’), but this isn’t often the case.
When someone has made a Will and appointed executors in their will, the executors will be responsible for carrying out the deceased’s wishes.
When someone is named the executor of a Will, they are being asked to take responsibility for administering the estate of the person who made the Will, called the testator, upon the testator’s death.
The term ‘estate’ simply refers to all the property a person leaves behind, whether its value be hundreds or millions of pounds.
One person’s assets may include homes, yachts and a Swiss bank account, while another leaves a wedding ring, some changes of clothes and a shoe box full of costume jewellery. Both have left estates to be accounted for and distributed.
What are the duties of an executor?
Duties of an executor involve corresponding with other parties, keeping meticulous records, filling out forms and being answerable to creditors, beneficiaries and the intentions of the deceased, as recorded in the Will.
Executors’ duties include the following:
- Taking an inventory of the deceased’s possessions and debts
- Notifying and corresponding with all relevant organisations to gather together all the assets
- Paying all bills, debts and charges on the estate
- Searching for any unclaimed or missing assets
- Distributing the legacies (whether specific items, cash sums or residue)
- Preparing and distributing estate accounts to interested parties
- Distributing the residue of the estate to the beneficiaries
- Following the testator’s wishes as closely as possible.
- Applying for a grant of probate (in England & Wales, and Northern Ireland) or confirmation (in Scotland) to prove that the executors have the authority to deal with the deceased’s assets to those institutions and authorities that hold assets in the deceased’s name
- Identifying and dealing with any claims against the estate
- Completing inheritance tax returns and paying any inheritance tax due
- Completing any income and capital gains tax returns and paying any outstanding tax
The executors’ aims are to:
- Identify the assets of the estate and assess their value at date of death.
- Identify the deceased’s debts and pay them.
- Distribute the legacies.
Get more detailed information and advice on the duties of executors in Lawpack’s Executor’s Guide.
What happens if more than one executor is appointed?
No matter how many executors are named, for practical purposes it’s usually easier if one of the executors undertakes the administrative tasks on behalf of all the executors.
The executors should meet to discuss the practical side of carrying out their duties, and whatever is agreed should be put in writing and signed by them all.
All the official paperwork may have to be signed by all the executors, even if they agree that one of them is doing the administration.
This isn’t the case in Scotland, however, as the application for confirmation only needs to be signed by one executor.
Can an executor refuse to administer the estate?
Yes. 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.
Get more information on how to apply for probate and the probate forms you need in Lawpack’s Probate Kit.