Advice Admin & Legal Executor of a will UK - what is an executor and what are their duties?

Executor of a will UK - what is an executor and what are their duties?

What is an executor of a will?

After someone has died it's the job of the executor to carry out the person's wishes according to their will. This can include settling tax, debts, funeral costs, funeral wishes, and making sure the assets and possessions go to the correct people. The executor is generally a trusted friend or family member, or in some cases, it can be a professional firm.

It's important to remember that the person named as executor has no power until the person in the will dies. Once the person dies, they can obtain permission to access bank accounts, financial assets and all paperwork related to the will as part of the probate process.

Being an executor is a big responsibility. If they fail to act out the wishes of the will, they can be held criminally and financially liable. These protections are put in place so that they don't abuse this position of power and to protect the beneficiaries of the will.

Who can be an executor of a will?

The answer to this question is that nearly anyone can be an executor. This includes beneficiaries of the will and family members. A common misconception is that it needs to be a lawyer or professional. When someone does select a solicitor to be executor, it's usually because they want the peace of mind that can come with a professional handling their affairs.

With that said, choosing an executor for your will does require some thought. The person should be someone you trust. Probate can be a lengthy process and is also often quite emotional for all parties involved. Make sure you select an executor who is well organised and generally on top of their personal finances. If the executor of your will knows your beneficiaries it can help the process - but this isn't mandatory. Once you've decided who you want to select, or maybe you've made a shortlist, you need to discuss this with them.

It's important to note that the person you select to be executor can always ask for legal help when the time comes.

Can someone opt out of being an executor of a will?

Yes, and this is quite common. The person who's selected as executor of a will can pass their duties on to another co-executor. They can also ask a professional for help and simply oversee the process. As a last fail-safe, the beneficiaries can apply to settle the estate and act as the executors collectively.

What are the responsibilities of an executor of a will?

Below we list the typical duties of an executor. This list is not exhaustive, and if you've any specific questions you can call our probate team for free on 020 4525 7580.

  • Find the will. If you've been asked to be the executor of a will and that person dies, you need to find the will. We've more information on how to do this here. The sooner you do this the better as the will often includes funeral wishes. The National Will Register is an excellent place to start: it has records for over 8 million wills written by solicitors and will writers from all over the country.
  • Registering the death. The executor of a will doesn't actually need to do this. However, they'll need a copy of the Death Certificate to complete their duties. You can do this on the government website.
  • Telling relevant corporate authorities about the death. This includes, but is not limited to, insurance companies, utility companies, mobile phone companies, and banks.
  • Telling relevant government authorities about the death. The executor of a will can use the ‘Tell us once’ service.
  • Applying for a grant of probate. This grant simply gives the executor of a will proof of their right to access and transfer the estate according to the wishes in the will.
  • Gathering the estate. The grant allows the executor of a will to start pooling together all the funds and assets in an estate so they can start to work toward dispersing it.
  • Valuing the estate. This is one of the hardest jobs for the executor of a will to complete. If you need help please give our probate team a call on 020 4525 7580. ****An estate’s value includes money, property, land, belongings, and assets like stocks and shares. If the deceased person's will is detailed, it should hopefully include a list of all their assets. However, it's not uncommon to find assets not listed in the will as assets held by a person changes over time.
  • Completing the inheritance tax form. In the UK you'll need to pay inheritance tax. Once this form is filed, HMRC will tell the executor how much inheritance tax is owed.
  • Paying inheritance tax out of the estate. If there is inheritance tax owed, the executor will need to pay it.
  • Paying for the funeral (Optional). If the bank of the deceased allows it (sometimes they do), the executor might be able to pay for the funeral out of the estate.
  • Paying any outstanding debts. What usually happens is that the executor of a will creates an advertisement asking if anyone is owed part of an estate.
  • Paying any outstanding taxes. This can include but is not limited to Income or Capital Gains Tax.
  • Transferring or selling the property. Not always required.
  • The distribution of assets to the correct beneficiaries. The will should outline who is set to inherit what. This is the main job of an executor and can take the longest amount of time.
  • Communication with the beneficiaries. The executor will need to keep what is called estate accounts. They will also need to make these available to beneficiaries during and after the estate administration process.

Can an Executor of a Will Also Be a Beneficiary?

Yes, the executor of a will can also be a beneficiary. This is a common question about making a will that needs an answer. The executor of your estate can be a beneficiary but there are key differences it's important to know.

What are the key differences between the executor and a beneficiary?

A beneficiary in a will is someone who you have left something. This could be a gift of money, property or specific items. In other words, they will benefit financially from the will. Anyone can be a beneficiary in a will and there are no restrictions on the number of beneficiaries you have.

The executor of your will, as stated above, is someone that you have chosen to carry out your wishes when you pass away. This person must be over the age of 18 and it's always best to pick a responsible, well-organised and unbiased person. You can have more than one executor. Find more information about the executor's duties here.

Is it possible for an executor to benefit from a will in other ways?

Some people may have questions about what the executor can do whilst dealing with someone’s will.

The executor can claim back any money that they have to spend to settle the estate. Of course, this has to be within reason (shipping costs of sending gifts or the fee for a grant of probate for example).

The executor could also be a professional whose fee is taken from the estate. In cases like this, beneficiaries can ask the professional to renounce their role as the executor.

Are you the executor of a will? Do you need help?

Octopus Legacy, through its partnership with the National Bereavement Service (NBS), has a variety of fixed-price probate services. The NBS deal with bereaved families every day and have a panel of trusted lawyers. The cheapest option is not always the best solution. However, what you’ll see on the initial quote is what you'll pay.

You'll also have an Octopus Legacy representative to ensure everything goes as smoothly as it can. Chat to us online or call our probate team today at 020 4525 7580 for free help.

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