Probate Guide: Top Tips for Executors

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What you need to know but probably weren’t aware of when you agreed to be named as the Executor of a Will

At Bennett Griffin LLP we have a team of specialists specifically to advise and assist Executors. If you have been entrusted with the formal role of an Executor, this guide will brief you on your key duties, responsibilities and the risks involved with your appointment.

In their desire to assist, we frequently find that our clients have been quick to agree that they will take on the role of Executor, for friends, family or colleagues, but they rarely ever receive advice at the time as to what this very important job entails.

Taking on the highly trusted role of an Executor means carrying out the instructions of the person who made the Will (the “Testator”/“Testatrix”) in accordance with the law. If these duties are not carried out properly, you may inadvertently become personally liable for any financial loss to the beneficiary(s) of the estate, the tax authorities or benefits agency.

To ensure that you have the peace of mind of knowing you are discharging your duties and responsibilities both legally and in the spirit of the wishes of the deceased, and to protect yourself from the risk of liability for any losses, it is recommended that you receive specialist advice at the earliest opportunity.

While there is no substitute for advice from an experienced expert, this guide will provide a starting point so that you can identify any gaps in your understanding, enabling you to make more informed choices when the time comes to discharge your duties as an Executor.

On the passing of the deceased, the immediate steps for an Executor are as follows:

STEP 1 – Immediately locate and secure the original (and last) Will

  • Do not presume that the Will you have is the latest. Significant issues arise if a later Will is subsequently discovered after you have started to sell or distribute assets.
  • If a Will cannot be located, contact Bennett Griffin LLP for specialist advice and details of how we can undertake searches and obtain insurance against this risk.

STEP 2 – Register the death and arrange the funeral

  • You will need to collect the medical certificate from the relevant medical practitioner and make an appointment at the local Registrars.
  • Make sure you purchase enough death certificates at this appointment, as the charges increase if you wish to purchase a certificate at a later date.
  • Check if the Will contains any specific instructions before finalising the funeral arrangements. It is quite common for the person writing the Will to specify their final wishes.
  • Check to see if a pre-paid funeral plan has been purchased or if the funeral has already been pre- arranged.

STEP 3 – Immediately check who has keys to the property

  • Find out who has keys to any property and retrieve them
  • If uncertain, change the locks
  • If the Executor does not secure the property, they could be at risk of an allegation that valuable items (even the Will itself) have gone missing.

* We have access to approved expert locksmiths who can secure the property, providing both peace of mind and time to address any issues arising from the contents and insurance (see below).

STEP 4 – Immediately check the terms of insurance of any property and personal possessions and contents.

  • Check the cover on the insurance and particularly whether any specific items are noted, and the maximum cover for any single item
  • If the Executor(s) fails to insure the deceased’s property adequately they may be personally liable for loss in the event of damage, fire or theft.

* We have access to specialist insurers who can fast track insurance quotes and cover for Executors, for vacant possession of properties.

STEP 5 – Do you need a Grant of Representation?

A key legal step in the administration is establishing if a Grant of Representation (sometimes called a Grant of Probate) is required. This is critical to enabling the legal transfer of assets from the deceased to the beneficiaries.

How do you do this? Firstly, you will need to ascertain the value of the assets in the deceased’s sole name. A Grant will be required to deal with all property/land and also the other assets depending on their value. Each company/organisation has their own limits as to the amount that they will release without sight of a Grant. If in doubt, we are pleased to provide specialist advice.

STEP 6 – Obtaining a Grant

There are two ways that you can obtain a Grant. The Executor can make a personal application at the Probate Registry. Guidance on the application process can be found at www.gov.uk.

Alternatively, we would be pleased to make the application for you. We will meet with you and obtain all of the personal and financial information that we need to advise you, and whether we can foresee any complications that you had not considered (see here for examples of these). We will complete the correct Inheritance Tax form(s) and calculate the correct amount of tax due (if appropriate), ensuring all of the available reliefs are claimed. HM Revenue & Customs won’t tell you if you have failed to claim a relief that is due. Beneficiaries can potentially lose out thousands of pounds if the Executor(s) do not claim all of the relief(s) that they are legally allowed to, and it could lead to a claim against you as the Executor.

Probate and Estate Administration

If this Guide has raised any queries or questions for you in your current or future role as Executor, then please contact a member of our Probate and Estate Administration team, who will be delighted to help you.