The short answer is, yes. Executors are legally responsible for dealing with the deceased’s estate. This typically involves applying for a Grant of Probate, administering the estate and distributing the assets to those persons entitled.
Not all individuals undertaking the task realise that they can be held personally responsible for any mistakes in the management and distribution of a deceased person's estate. Both professional and non-professional Executors are subject to a statutory "duty of care" under the Trustee Act of 2000, meaning they should act in the best interests of the estate and beneficiaries. Consequently, they can be held financially and legally liable for any mistakes made in handling the deceased's assets.
Executors are responsible for valuing the assets in the estate, tracking accounts, paying debts and taxes and distributing what's left of the estate to the beneficiaries. In order to carry out their duties, Executors need to have a copy of the Will along with relevant financial information on the deceased's holdings. It is most important that they keep a clear record of each step they take during the probate process, especially if inheritance tax is payable on the estate. This way, there is a clearly documented audit trail should any questions need to be answered at a later date.
While non-professional Executors may end up paying penalties if the taxmen find the estate has been undervalued, most probate experts have the protection of professional indemnity insurance that would cover their legal and other expenses if problems occur, so hiring a professional is often a more practical option.
If you choose to do things yourself, taking out an Executor's insurance policy is another way to protect yourself against any financial or legal claims that may arise from your actions and the insurance cost can often be recovered from the estate.
In any case, getting as much professional and reliable advice as possible could provide you with a good shield against any problems that may crop up at a later stage.
If you are an Executor and would like further advice on what to do next, please call our estate administration specialists on freephone 0800 014 7334.