- March 31, 2019
- Posted by: Stephen Coleclough
- Category: Will writing
Being chosen to be an executor of a will is both an honour and a serious responsibility.
The will-maker is trusting you to carry out their final wishes, which may include some very complex financial and legal matters.
Before taking this responsibility on, (and the person making the will should ask you first; this is not something to surprise people with as they may well decline), it is important to understand what being an executor entails.
In this article, I will share the key duties of an executor and the kinds of challenges that they may have to deal with.
It will help you understand if you have the personal attributes necessary to be an executor.
Do not resuscitate will be dealt with in another article but often an immediate concern is organ donation.
As Executor you may be required to sign a consent but most likely, immediate family members will make the decision.
We will be doing a separate piece on legal guardians of children.
If the deceased had pets, then they need to be looked after as soon as possible, whether that is by re-housing or in some cases, and sometimes at the deceased’s wishes, destroyed.
What are the main duties of an executor?
An executor takes on the legal responsibility of managing the financial affairs of a person who has passed away.
Their primary responsibility is to ensure the Will-maker’s debts and taxes are paid before distributing the remaining assets to the inheritors nominated by the Will-maker.
They must ensure that all of the assets in the estate are managed in a way that is compliant with inheritance and tax laws in the United Kingdom.
The most important tasks carried out by the executor include:
Registering the death with authorities
The executor may have to notify the deceased’s GP to inform them of the death and register the death with the local register office.
The registrar will give the executor copies of the death certificate, which will be used to prove the will-maker has died.
It is usually best to get multiple copies of the death certificate, as different banks, solicitors, debtors, and government agencies may require a copy.
In the UK, you can notify the Tell Us Once service, which will notify several government departments about the death of the will-maker, including the housing department, DVLA, and HMRC.
Finding the will
The executor’s next task is to find the will.
Most people keep their last will and testament in their home, at their bank or with their solicitor.
In some cases, it may be lodged with the London Probate Department and a death certificate will be required to access it.
The Will must be checked to determine that you are in fact still the executor.
It is important to ensure that you have the most recent copy of the will before proceeding — there may be multiple versions.
Once you have located the most recent Will, copies should be made, which will be given to co-executors and beneficiaries.
Arranging the funeral
In some cases, the executor will also be responsible for arranging the funeral.
The Will might includes the Will-maker’s funeral wishes, which should be adhered to as closely as possible.
If the deceased had a funeral plan, the executor should contact that company immediately.
Otherwise, they can use funds that the deceased has in their bank or building society.
To obtain those funds, a death certificate and funeral invoice will be required.
However, it is normal to make sure you have the body to bury or cremate.
This will not be the case if there is an inquest.
An inquest is usually required when the death is sudden (i.e. the deceased had not been under the care of a doctor), where the death is unnatural, including suicide, or the cause of death is unascertained.
An inquest must be held where the deceased died in the custody of the state.
The body remains the property of the Coroner until he releases it.
Then you can bury or cremate the body.
The delay and knowledge of what will be happening to the body during this process, e.g. samples sent for testing, can cause considerable distress to those left behind.
The executor may have to also:
- Choose a date for the funeral
- Notify friends, family members and colleagues of the death
- Place advertisements in the newspapers informing the public of the funeral date
Valuing the estate and securing assets
The total value of the estate must be calculated, including real estate, personal possessions, and money.
It is usually best to hire a professional to value assets like real estate, art, and jewellery.
Any debts must be subtracted from this amount, including mortgages, bills, personal loans.
The Will may specify that some assets must be bequeathed to certain beneficiaries, so the executor must decide which assets are safe to use for paying off debts.
Assets like unoccupied property must secured as soon as possible and steps should be taken to ensure any insurance policies are still valid while the estate is being settled.
Applying for probate
Probate is the legal right to deal someone else’s estate.
It must be obtained from the government by submitting copies of the will, the death certificate, a probate application form, and an inheritance tax form.
Probate won’t be required for estates that are less than £5,000 in England and Wales (less than £10,000 in Northern Ireland).
Inheritance tax must be paid before the probate is granted.
Once probate is received, several copies will be required for asset holders.
If inheritance tax is due, then the executor might have to arrange a loan from a bank to be repaid out of the first realisations of the estate.
Obtaining assets and pay debts
The executor can now access the estate’s assets to pay off debts.
They will have to contact banks, insurance companies (such as a private medical insurance broker), and other asset holders to determine current total of the deceased’s assets.
They must also ensure that all direct debits from accounts have been canceled.
Any state benefits like pensions must be canceled.
Credit card companies, insurance companies, and other organisations must be informed of the death and steps taken to deal with those debts or assets.
All outstanding debts will then have to be paid.
This includes any bills, mortgages, tax debts, capital gains tax, and personal loans.
Executors should place statutory notices for creditors in newspapers to ensure that no unknown debts remain (which may lead to future claims against beneficiaries).
Distributing the estate
Finally, the executor will distribute the remaining assets.
If specific assets have been bequeathed to a particular person, they can be put aside before probate (after being valued) and are not used to pay off debts.
When probate is granted, the executor will pay the correct sum to each beneficiary and organise a time for them to collect other assets.
Estate accounts must be drawn up, which shows the total value of the estate, along with expenses and debts that have been paid.
Other common tasks
In addition to the tasks listed above, the executor may have to:
- Represent the estate in court
- Ensure that all property is maintained appropriately
- Dispose of property not claimed by beneficiaries or debtors
- Consider whether the will should be varied with the consent of the beneficiaries – this can have tax advantages.
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