For someone who has never dealt with a deceased person’s affairs, the legal jargon and complicated processes can be hard to digest; the tasks involved are unlikely to be previously encountered and come with a great deal of legal and financial responsibility. Unfortunately, this can make the difficult time of coming to terms with the death of a loved one even harder.
Whether you are an Executor of someone’s Will or are in the process of preparing your own Will and making decisions on your chosen Executor(s), this blog aims to provide clarity on the role and answer some frequently asked questions on the topic.
What is the role of the Executor of a Will?
An Executor is the named individual in the Will who is responsible for carrying out the deceased’s wishes and administering their estate upon their death. The umbrella term Personal Representative is also used to refer to both Executors and Administrators, which describe the same role, but the latter term is used in scenarios where the deceased passed away without a Will.
The role of an Executor is not one to be taken lightly, as the named individual is financially and legally responsible for the correct administration of the estate; they can be held liable for mistakes in distributing inheritance or incorrectly paying Inheritance Tax (IHT). Although an unpaid role, an Executor can claim reasonably incurred expenses from the estate before funds are distributed to the beneficiaries.
What are the responsibilities of an Executor?
An Executor has many responsibilities. This includes:
- Applying for the Grant of Probate (if required)
- Maximising the estate for the beneficiaries
- Ensuring the correct distribution of the estate
- Identifying and settling all assets and debts before distributing funds
- Paying any IHT due on the estate within the appropriate timeframes
- Finalising the Income Tax position up to the date of death and for the period post-death until distribution
What powers does an Executor of a Will have?
An Executor has a statutory duty of care to administer an estate. As outlined in the 2000 Trustee Act, Executors are obliged to act in the best interests of the beneficiaries to avoid loss or injury to the estate.
Once a Grant of Probate has been obtained, this provides the Executors with the authority to access and manage the deceased person’s assets. It’s worth noting that a Grant of Probate isn’t always required to access funds; financial institutions such as banks and building societies may set their own probate thresholds or decide whether a Grant is required on a case-by-case basis. Read our blog to learn more about probate thresholds in the UK.
Who is the best person to be an Executor?
The best person to be an Executor of a Will is someone that can be trusted – they’ll need to carry out the instructions in the Will and find solutions to any disagreements that may arise.
Additionally, consider whether the individual will possess the confidence to handle large amounts of paperwork and navigate complex legal issues when the time comes. The best person to be an Executor will be someone with strong organisational skills and the time available to undertake the time-consuming tasks that may be involved.
Up to four people can be named as an Executor in a Will; it is advisable to name at least two in the event that one of the named Executors predeceases or does not wish to act when the time comes.
Can anyone be appointed as an Executor?
Anyone can be appointed as an Executor. However, many opt to elect a member of their family, such as their spouse, civil partner, or children. It’s worth noting that a person under the age of 18 can be named as an Executor in a Will, but they will need to be over 18 at the time of applying for probate.
It’s also very common for a professional to be appointed as an Executor, such as a Will Writer, Financial Adviser, Solicitor, or estate administration specialist; this provides comfort that the estate will be administered as per the wishes in the Will without the onus being put on an individual to get things done correctly.
Can an Executor also inherit?
During the creation of a Will, many query whether an Executor can also inherit; it’s a common misconception that an Executor cannot be a beneficiary. In fact, it’s perfectly normal and legal for an Executor to also be a beneficiary.
When do Executors pay beneficiaries?
As previously mentioned, Executors have a duty to collect in the deceased’s assets and settle any debts or liabilities before distributing inheritance to the beneficiaries. This step often takes place after the production of the estate accounts – the final part of the estate administration process that details what has come in and out of the estate.
In some scenarios, a beneficiary is often able to receive interim payments if the estate administrator is holding monies before the estate has been finalised.
Do Executors have to keep beneficiaries informed?
Whilst it’s beneficial for an Executor to have a good line of communication with the beneficiaries of an estate, there is no requirement to comply with every single request for information. In fact, beneficiaries do not have a right to much information regarding an estate other than if they are named, what they have been left, and the full amount of inheritance they will receive.
Additionally, beneficiaries do not have an automatic right to see a copy of a Will regardless of their relationship to the deceased and their entitlement – this can be disclosed at the Executor’s discretion. It’s worth noting that once probate has been granted, the Will remains with the Probate Registry and becomes a public document, meaning a copy can be requested by anyone who wants to see it.
Who can challenge an Executor of a Will?
An Executor has a duty to administer an estate in accordance with the law. Unfortunately, scenarios arise when beneficiaries believe the Executor is in breach of their duties. In these scenarios, steps can be taken to challenge or remove the Executor from having any further involvement in the administration of the estate.
Common scenarios where a beneficiary may challenge an Executor of a Will include unnecessary delays in the administration or the distribution of funds to beneficiaries, disagreement about the sale of property, rejecting to seek financial advice on financial issues, and acting in an obvious ‘conflict of interest’.
Can an Executor sell property?
Yes, an Executor can sell property owned by the deceased on the basis that there are no clauses in the Will that prevent the sale and there are no surviving joint owners. The responsibility of the property falls to the Executor after the owner dies and they are responsible for resolving any issues that may arise. Learn more about what happens to property when someone dies by reading our blog.
In cases where the deceased’s property is to be sold, the sale price can often cause contention between the Executor and beneficiaries. If a property is sold under the market value, they could be accused of failing to fulfil their duty of acting in the beneficiaries’ best interest, which may provoke a claim made against them.
Kings Court Trust is an estate administration provider that offers award-winning solutions to support every family. We can complete all of the tasks involved in estate administration after being appointed by the named Executor or Administrator, relinquishing them of the legal and financial responsibility associated with the role. We can also be named as a professional Executor in a Will, giving peace of mind that everything will be taken care of by a professional upon death.
If you’d like free, impartial advice or have any questions regarding probate or estate administration, call our Client Services Team on 0300 303 9000 or fill in the form below.