What does it mean to be appointed as an Executor, and what are my duties? - OM&M
Published 01st June 2021 | Probate & Power of Attorney

What does it mean to be appointed as an Executor, and what are my duties?

Have you ever been asked by someone to act as an Executor for their Will? You may have wondered exactly what this means and what your duties would be.

Have you ever been asked by someone to act as an Executor for their Will? If so and you accept, you may have wondered exactly what this means and what your duties would be. 

Accepting the role of an Executor is a responsibility and will involve some work when the person who has asked you dies. However, it is not an impossible role for most people to undertake, especially as you can get help. We explain below what you could expect if you take on this role. 

What is an Executor? 

When you make a Will there has to be someone who will take responsibility for ensuring that the Will successfully goes through Probate, and to distribute the bequests, after you have gone.  

That person is called an Executor. They undertake to ensure, usually in collaboration with a solicitor, that all provisions of the Will are fulfilled as the Testator (the person who made the Will) has specified. 

There may only be one Executor for a Will, but Testators are normally advised to appoint two. This is partly so that the work can be shared between them, but it also means that, if one Executor should be ill or otherwise unable to fulfil the role at the crucial time, there will be someone available for the necessary work. 

Who can be appointed an Executor? 

In theory, any person who is over the age of eighteen and has mental capacity can be appointed as an Executor. However, in practice it needs to be someone the Testator completely trusts, since they are putting their affairs in the Executor’s hands. This means that, if you are asked to act as an Executor, the person asking is expressing their faith and trust in you. 

One Executor may well be the Testator’s next-of-kin, and both will in any case normally be either close relatives or friends. However, the Testator may prefer to appoint a professional, usually a solicitor or accountant, as their Executor. This would be particularly beneficial if the estate is complicated. 

What are my duties as an Executor? 

Once you have been appointed as an Executor, you have no duties until the Testator’s death. It is common sense, however, to ensure that you make sure that you are up to date with the Testator’s situation and wishes. This is not strictly necessary, since your role is to fulfil the terms of the written Will, but it is possible your knowledge could make the process simpler. 

After the Testator’s death, however, you will have a number of tasks to undertake. It can help to seek the advice of an expert solicitor for these tasks, which include: 

  • Applying for Probate for the Will. 
  • Valuing the Estate. 
  • Making sure that any taxes or debts owed by the estate are paid, including any Inheritance Tax due. 
  • Distributing the estate to the beneficiaries who are named in the Will. 

You are entitled to claim from the estate any expenses you might incur when carrying out these tasks. 

Applying for Probate 

A Grant of Probate is normally necessary to authorise you to deal with the Testator’s estate. If the value of the estate is very low (typically under £5,000) this may not be necessary, and occasionally you might not need it for a higher value. To find out, write to the organisation (e.g. bank or building society) that holds the assets and ask if they are willing to release them to you. 

If Probate is required, you will need to fill in and send form PA1, or make a Legal Statement, together with the relevant Inheritance Tax form to the Probate Registry. If there is tax to pay, you will need to pay this first before submitting your application to the Registry. You will also need to send them an official copy of the death certificate and the original Will. They will also require a payment for the production of the Grant, which is paid by the estate. 

On receiving the Grant of Probate, you should send an original document to each asset holder. If all this seems too much work, however, you can instruct a solicitor to handle the whole process of getting a Grant of Probate. Signatures will still be required from all Executors on each document, but everything else will be handled by the professionals. 

Valuing the estate and paying Inheritance Tax 

It is essential that any Inheritance Tax due is paid as early as possible, and that requires a valuation of the estate. Currently an estate worth more than £325,000 is liable for Inheritance Tax, (if there are no other applicable exemptions) with 40% charged on any amount over that figure. 

As Executor, you will need to calculate the total value of the assets belonging to the estate. For assets like cash or shares, this is relatively straightforward, but some assets will need a professional valuation. This certainly includes land or property, and HMRC recommends a valuation for any item you believe is worth more than £500 — for example, vehicles, jewellery or electrical equipment. 

You should then calculate and subtract any money owed by the estate. This may, for instance, include mortgages, loans and credit card debts. 

Again, you might undertake all this yourself, or alternatively give the information to a solicitor or accountant to make the calculations. 

Distributing the estate 

Even if the Will requires Probate, you may be able to distribute some items straight away. These would include items (as opposed to sums of money) specified in the Will as bequests to a particular person. However, any items distributed on this basis must be valued first. 

Once Probate has been granted, you may choose to wait up to six months in case any claims are made against the estate. When you proceed, however, you should draw up an account for each beneficiary, listing what they will receive. You should also give each an R185 tax form and keep clear records of anything you have done. 

Two cases need special action: 

  • If any beneficiary is bankrupt they may not receive the bequest, so you should search the Individual Insolvency Register. 
  • If a beneficiary is under the age of eighteen, you should appoint at least two trustees to manage their inheritance. 

As you will see, being an Executor for a loved one’s Will can add up to a considerable amount of work, but you can get help from a solicitor, with any fees payable out of the estate. Get in touch with our dedicated Probate team if you need to find out more about this process. 

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