What Does An Executor Of A Will Do?

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If you have been asked to be an executor of a Will, you are being asked to take on a great responsibility.  Depending on the complexities of the Will, the role of executor can take up a considerable amount of time.  However, it is an honour to be asked to fulfill the role, as the person making the Will (known as the testator) obviously thinks very highly of you to entrust you will execute their wishes following their death.

The role of an executor

An executor is responsible for managing the final affairs of the deceased.  Normally, this involves paying off any debts and creditors and distributing the rest of the testator’s assets and monies in accordance with what is stated in the Will.  However, an executor may also be responsible for registering the death and organising the funeral.

It is a common misconception that an executor cannot be a beneficiary under the Will but this is not true.  However, an executor has a legal duty to act in the utmost good faith and to perform their duties with care and diligence.

Duties of an executor

The duties of an executor may seem daunting at first, but don’t panic.  Here is a list of the actions you need to take.  If you run into problems along the way, an experienced private client solicitor can help you.

  1. Register the death and obtain copies of the death certificate

You need to register the death of the testator within five days of their passing (eight days in Scotland).  This can be done online[1].  If the death has been reported to the coroner, you must wait for their permission before registering the death.  Once the death is registered, you will be able to organise the funeral.

  1. Locate the Will

Hopefully, when you were appointed as an executor, the testator would have told you where copies of their Will were held.  But, you may easily have forgotten, and no other family members may have a clue who holds the document.  If you know a valid will is in existence, you have a duty to do your best to locate it.  If relatives are at a loss regarding where it is, contact the deceased’s solicitor or accountant to see if they can shed any light on the situation.  If a solicitor drafted the Will, they are likely to have retained a copy.  However, if the search proves fruitless, you can place a notice in a national newspaper asking solicitors if anyone has a copy of the Will and/or hire a professional to locate it for you.

  1. Determine who the other executors are

If the testator appointed more than one executor, you need to locate them and establish if they will agree to take on the role.  It pays to have this agreement in writing in case a dispute develops later down the line.

  1. Contact a solicitor about obtaining a grant of probate

Although you can try and obtain a grant of probate by yourself, it is not recommended.  The process can be complicated and a failure to fill in the correct forms can result in serious delays in the ability to distribute the contents of the estate.  Not only can this cause loved ones of the deceased considerable hardship and distress, but more of your time will also be taken up trying to rectify unnecessary errors.

  1. Secure and value the deceased’s assets

The deceased’s assets must be secured and valued before applying for a grant of probate.  You will need to obtain titles to any property and go through the testator’s affairs to establish what assets they held in terms of shares, life insurance, pensions and other property.  A professional valuer may need to be engaged to provide an accurate figure of how the estate is worth.  This is required to determine if and how much inheritance tax is owed.

In addition to the assets, you also need to determine the value of the liabilities owed by the testator.   If, after completing this exercise the estate appears to be insolvent, you will need to seek professional legal advice.

  1. Pay the inheritance tax

If the value of the estate exceeds £325,000 or £650,000 if the surviving spouse’s inheritance tax allowance is applied, inheritance tax will need to be paid before probate can be granted.

From April 2017, an additional ‘main residence nil rate band’ has been available on family homes.  The residential nil rate band will be £100,000 for the 2017/18 tax year and will increase by £25,000 each year to reach £175,000 by 2021.

Like the inheritance tax nil rate band, if a husband and wife leave their estate to each other, the residence nil rate band passes to the surviving spouse, meaning that by 2021 a couple will be able to leave up to £1 million in their Will, free from inheritance tax.

There are restrictions to the main residence nil rate band, so it pays to seek legal advice to see if it is applicable to the deceased’s estate.

  1. Swear an oath

Before probate is granted, you must swear an oath, either at your local Probate Registry or before a solicitor.  Once this formality is complete, the fees paid, and probate granted, you may begin to pay creditors and distribute the contents of the estate in accordance with the instructions laid down in the Will.

Final words

Executor’s duties are easy to manage with the help of legal advice and adherence to the correct procedure.  At Bennett Griffin Solicitors, we can assist you with successfully fulfilling your duties as an executor in a practical, welcoming manner.

Bennett Griffin is award-winning solicitors based in West Sussex with offices in central Worthing and Ferring.  Our experienced and specialist solicitors offer a comprehensive service and will work with you in an honest, considered and practical manner.  Our wills, trusts and probate department is able to advise and assist you in relation to all matters relating to being an executor.  Please contact us on 01903 229 999 or by email at info@bennett-griffin.co.uk for more information.

The information contained in this article is for general guidance only and is not intended to be legal advice. Professional advice should always be taken on the application of the law in any particular situation.

[1] https://www.gov.uk/register-a-death