Your Role as an Executor
Being chosen as a Will executor is both an honour and an obligation. Before accepting, you should be sure you understand what you’re getting into. Broadly speaking, you’ll be distributing the deceased person’s property and arranging for payment of estate debts and expenses. Specific duties will include: choosing the type of probate, filing the will for probate, setting up an account for paying bills, paying estate debts and taxes, maintaining willed property, making and filing an inventory with the court, distributing assets, and many more. It’s a big commitment.
An executor is legally responsible for sorting out the finances of the person who died, generally making sure debts and taxes are paid and what remains is properly distributed to the beneficiaries.
Executors tend to come from the close ranks of a family—spouses, children, parents and siblings. It is possible and legally valid to charge for the services as executor but since so many executors are close family members, they often don’t ask to be compensated. In addition to carrying out duties in a diligent, impartial and honest manner, an executor may also be required to perform any or all of the following activities, among others:
Get a copy of the will and file it with the local ‘probate registry’ to get a ‘grant of probate’
The executor is in charge of locating, reading and understanding the will—usually even if probate isn’t necessary, the will still must be filed with the probate registry. At this stage, the executor also determines who inherits the property.
2. Notify banks, credit card companies and government agencies of the deceased’s death
The Department of Works and Pensions along with the deceased’s bank and credit card companies are just some examples of who should be notified of the death.
3. Set up a bank account for incoming funds and pay any ongoing bills
If the deceased is owed money such as incoming salary, this account can hold them. An executor should be on the lookout for mortgages, utilities and similar bills that still need to be paid throughout the probate process.
4. Make a list of the estate’s assets for the probate registry
The executor is responsible for submitting a detailed list of the assets for potential inheritance tax (IHT) payment.
5. Decide what kind of probate is necessary
Probate isn’t always necessary, the value of the estate may allow it to pass through without the need to obtain probate.
6. Maintain property until it can be distributed or sold
This includes keeping up a house until it is distributed to beneficiaries or sold – even deciding whether property needs to be sold at all. Also, an executor must be sure to find all personal property in the estate and protect it until distribution. If the deceased had a safety deposit box, the executor should locate it and keep it safe.
7. Pay the estate’s debts and taxes
HMRC dictates the procedure for final income tax returns and payment of inheritance tax.
8. Distribute assets
Distribution occurs according to the wishes expressed in the will. If there is no will, the laws of intestacy apply.
9. Dispose of other property
If there is any property left after paying off the estate’s debts and distribution to beneficiaries, the executor is responsible for disposing of it.
10. Represent the estate in court
An executor may be required to appear in court on behalf of the estate.
Since estates vary greatly in size and complexity, an executor’s job may be easy or challenging to carry out—and responsibilities may very well go beyond the 10 basic items in this list. But whilst an executor can decline the position or resign at any point in the process, sometimes all that is needed is some legal advice. Consulting with a lawyer is generally needed to make sure that the executor properly complies with his or her duties.