A quick look at Executor responsibilities and how to be an Executor of a Will

Be an Executor - what should I know?So a close friend or relative has asked you if you would be named as Executor of their Estate. What an honour! It is indeed a position of great trust and responsibility.

But once you’ve had time to absorb the implications of this request, you probably have a lot of questions about what your duties and responsibilities will be if you should accept the position.

There are also practical considerations about potential cost of both time and money.

Here are some of the questions you should ask:

Am I the only Executor?

Many people will appoint one family member or friend, and one professional (a legal professional, qualified Wills expert or bank official) to act as joint Executors.

This can be a relief to you, as a professional will be able to efficiently deal with complex legal matters such as the probate process. They will also be clear headed at a time when you and other people close to the deceased may feel overwhelmed by difficult financial and legal decisions.

If your loved one has not appointed a second Executor, this may be something you want to discuss with them as a condition of taking on the responsibility yourself.

What kind of estate is it?

Is it a simple Will with few beneficiaries, or a complex estate with one or more trusts to be overseen after their death? Are they expecting you to become a Trustee as well as an Executor and are you comfortable with this? Are they willing to carefully take you through any trusts to explain how they work and what their effect will be (potentially with the professional who has set up the Estate Plan to guide you through it)?

And with any kind of Estate, if somebody is asking you to be an executor, they should be happy to reassure you that all their paperwork is organised, in order and where you can find it after they have gone – and in this day and age, that should include a system for you to access up to date online banking access details.

What are my key responsibilities?

1.    Assess debts and credits
Before probate can be applied for, all monies owed to or by the deceased must be assessed (but not paid for yet). Only then can the value of the estate be assessed.

2.    Inventory Estate
You must prepare a detailed list of all the deceased’s money, assets, shares and possessions. This may entail getting valuations for high-value items.

3.    Inform official bodies of the death
There will be paperwork to be prepared and death certificates to procure to send to bodies such as HMRC, banks, insurance companies, mortgage providers and other institutions. Most organisations will have a helpline to talk you through the process and provide you with forms and/or a list of what to send.

4.    Apply for Probate
The Grant of Probate (or Grant of Confirmation in Scotland) is a legal document that confirms that the will is recognised as valid and that you are authorised to administer the estate. You will normally need this document to send to any asset holders to authorise the release of your loved ones’ assets.

If the value of the estate is under £5000 you may not need a Grant of Probate, but do check with any banks or building societies if they will be prepared to release the deceased’s money to you without it.

5.    Distribute the Estate
Hopefully this will be straightforward and painless. Inheritance Tax may need to be paid first. Specific personal items may be distributed before Probate is granted, but must still be valued and including in the estate when it is assessed for IHT.

Will it cost me money and time?

In terms of time, it will very much depend on the complexity of the estate and on how organised your friend or relative is!

If they are the kind of person who has everything neatly filed and clearly labelled, then it should all be relatively straightforward. However, if you anticipate a pile of unfiled papers in a shoebox, then get ready to roll your sleeves up for a good while.

You can claim reasonable expenses from the estate, for out of pocket costs such as stationery, postage and telephone calls, travel essential to the administration of the estate, valuations, funeral expenses, applying for essential documents, utility bills for maintenance of the deceased’s property, house sale costs, house clearance and so on.

You are advised to keep receipts for each and every expense, in case a beneficiary of the will should ever query the amount claimed in expenses.

So in essence, the key questions you must ask if you are invited to become Executor of a Will are: can I/should I do this alone? How complicated will it be? And do I understand the responsibilities I am undertaking?

If you are satisfied with the answers you get, you are ready to take on the role of Executor.

If you’d like to book a free consultation with one of our legal experts to discuss this, or any other matter, book online or call 01342 477 102 and quote ‘How to be an Executor’.

This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.