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What does an executor of a will do?

Our People - Andrew Guile
12 September, 2022

What is an executor of a will?

An executor is a person named in the will, whose legal responsibility is to carry out the provisions of the will. An executor of a will has the duty to carry out the wishes of the deceased, including locating the original will, sorting out finances and applying for probate. It is important to choose the executor (or executors) carefully.

What are the key duties of an executor of a will?

The primary responsibility of an executor is to carry out the wishes of the deceased as set out in their will.

Executor of a will duties and responsibilities include:

  1. register the death
  2. locate the original will
  3. arrange and pay for the funeral
  4. take responsibility for property
  5. sort out finances
  6. value the estate
  7. pay any Inheritance Tax due
  8. apply for a grant of probate
  9. pay any debts of the estate
  10. collect in all the estate assets
  11. distribute the estate in accordance with the will

1. Register the death

This isn’t strictly part of an executor’s duties, but the executor should step in if no one else does. As an aside, notifying the GP is also important.

When registering the death, it may be helpful to get several copies, as banks etc often need to see an official copy, not merely a photocopy or a scanned copy.  If there are several institutions to notify, and you only have one copy, it can take a while! It is easier to do this when registering the death.

2. Locate the original will

Assuming there is a will, you need to locate the original and try to ensure that it’s the latest will. It’s the most recent will that matters. Check with family and friends if you are unsure. Read the will and if you do not understand how the wishes of the deceased should be carried out, seek legal advice.

3. Arrange and pay for the funeral

If the deceased left instructions for their funeral, it is the executors’ duty to carry those out. Banks will normally allow funeral expenses to be paid directly from the deceased’s bank account on production of the death certificate and an original funeral account. Check also to see if the deceased had a pre-paid funeral plan.

4. Take responsibility for property

Check that any property owned by the deceased is insured. Many home insurance policies do not provide cover if the property is empty. You need to notify any insurers of the death immediately and obtain separate house insurance as necessary.

5. Sort out finances

Notify banks, building societies, utility companies and insurance companies and cancel all direct debits, etc. Stop the payment/receipt of any salary, pension and state benefits. You can use the ‘Tell us Once’ service – . If you are not using a solicitor to help you, open an executor’s bank account to keep the deceased’s money separate from your own.

6. Value the estate

An executor of a will needs to value the estate and pay any inheritance tax due before you can apply for probate so you must identify the assets and liabilities of the deceased as soon as possible. HMRC recommends getting professional valuations of any assets worth more than £500. As a minimum, any property much be professionally valued. Go through paperwork and check with close family and friends to identify any debts owing.

7. Pay any Inheritance Tax due

First, you must calculate if tax is due. No tax is due if the estate passes to a spouse, civil partner or charity. On the second death (i.e. when the second person in a couple dies), they have their own tax-free allowances (currently £325,000 + another £175,000 for property passing to a child or grandchild) and they also have any unused tax allowances that their spouse/partner had available as at the time of their death. The rules surrounding Inheritance Tax are vast and complex. Where tax is payable (and where certain allowances are claimed that make tax not payable) the longer IHT 400 tax form must be completed. You should consider taking legal advice if you are unclear on the value of the estate, whether certain allowances apply, or how to complete the tax forms. Where Inheritance Tax is payable, it is paid at 40%.

Where Inheritance Tax is payable, banks may allow the sum due to be paid from the deceased’s account(s) – if there are funds to cover it – or executors could open an executor’s loan account and/or in certain circumstances, Inheritance Tax may be payable by instalments.

8. Apply for a grant of probate

These days it’s easy to apply for a grant of probate online. Any Inheritance Tax must have been paid. You then leave (currently) 20 working days before applying for the grant. A grant of probate allows you to deal with the deceased’s estate, i.e. allows you to collect the assets, pay debts and distribute the estate/money to the beneficiaries as set out in the will.

For low value estates you may not need probate as banks, etc may not require it for you to deal with the deceased’s money.

It will be useful to get several copies of the grant or probate, for the same reason it is useful to get several death certificates.

9. Pay any debts of the estate

In addition to paying debts that you are aware of, it is wise to advertise for creditors under s.27 Trustee Act 1925.  This protects the executors against personal liability for debts of the deceased of which they were not aware. It does not prevent creditors pursuing beneficiaries of the estate, however.

10. Collect in all the estate assets

You will need multiple copies of the grant of probate to collect in all the deceased’s assets. Make sure that you keep the deceased’s money separate from your own.

11. Distribute the estate in accordance with the will

You need to prepare estate accounts setting out what money and assets have been collected, debts and legacies paid, and the net value of the estate remaining. This helps explain to the residuary beneficiaries the sum(s) they are receiving and why.

You must check whether or not the beneficiaries are bankrupt by checking on the Individual Insolvency Register.

Any small items of property given or bequeathed to a beneficiary in the will can be given before probate is granted, but make sure you have the item valued.

It’s a good idea to wait two months after the date of any S27 notices before distributing in case there are any unknown debts.

If any spouse, former spouse, children or dependents of the deceased were excluded from the will, it’s wise to leave a minimum of 6 months from the date of the grant of probate to distribute in case a claim is brought against the estate under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.

What power does an executor of a will have?

Strictly, the will gives the executor(s) the power to administer the estate. However, save in the case of simple low-value estates, a grant of probate will be necessary to deal with the assets.

Who can be an executor of a will?

An executor of a will in the UK can be a family member (including your spouse, and adult children), a friend or a solicitor. It’s also worth noting that beneficiaries can also be executors of a will.

Who should I choose to be an executor?

Being an executor is a very responsible role for someone to be given. You should choose someone that you believe has the ability to administer your estate and whom you trust. It should be someone who you logically expect to survive you.

Can executors be liable for anything?

Claims can be made against an executor (or administrator) for up to 12 years after the death should there be an allegation that any of their duties were not carried out correctly. An example might be a beneficiary of a will who believes that they received less than they were entitled to.

If you would like any help or advice on the duties of an executor of a will, or any issues relating to probate or the key stages of the probate process, please do not hesitate to contact a member of our Probate Team or get in touch on 020 8492 2290.

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