How to be an executor and key responsibilities
An executor is a named person in a will appointed to handle a person’s estate (money, property and possessions) after they die.
You may be flattered if someone asks you to be an executor (or ’executor nominate’ in Scotland) of their estate after their death, but you may be unsure as to what your duties and responsibilities will be. Being an executor may go on for months or even years and you should think carefully about undertaking this commitment.
In this article we explore some of the details of what to expect and key responsibilities.
Frequently asked questions
Who can be an executor?
You can be an executor even if you are named in the will to inherit something from the estate. The person making the will can appoint up to four executors so you can share the responsibility with others.
What do executors do?
- Collect all assets and money due to the deceased person’s estate, including property.
- Pay any outstanding taxes and debts out of the estate.
- Make sure any property owned by the deceased person is safe and secure.
- Distribute the assets of the estate to those who are entitled to it, under the terms of the will.
Executors can claim expenses from the estate for this work.
Solicitors can help you with your role as an executor. You can find a solicitor by contacting the legal professional body for your country.
What are the key duties for an executor?
There are a range of tasks that you must carry out as an executor. These include:
- Register the death and get copies of the will.
- Arrange the funeral and talk to family and friends.
- You will need to value everything that they owned at the time of their death. This includes property, possessions and money, less any outstanding debts such as mortgage, loans and credit card bills.
- You may need to apply for probate which gives you the legal right to deal with an estate. In Scotland this is called confirmation.
What do I need to do if there is an unoccupied property?
- If there is an unoccupied property, secure it and inform the insurers immediately. The estate may have to replace the deceased person as the policyholder, and you may have to make regular checks on the condition of the unoccupied property if instructed to do so. You may need a new home insurance policy if the current one doesn’t cover an empty property.
- You can contact the Bereavement Register to stop postal deliveries to the property.
How do I deal with their finances?
- Send an original death certificate to any asset holders, such as banks, building societies and insurance companies. Ask for any direct debits or payments to be cancelled, find out the account balances and investment values at the date of the death.
- Stop the payment of salary, pensions and state benefits. Advise the issuers of credit cards, TV licence, passport and driver’s licence. The ‘Tell Us Once’ service will help with some of these.
- Request details for any debts the deceased person had, and any overpayments made to them. Check through any existing bills or statements to identify energy suppliers or the local council to see if the deceased person owed any money. If you think there are more debts than assets, the estate might be insolvent, in which case you will need to seek professional advice before you do anything else.
- If you don’t use the ‘Tell Us Once’ service, contact the deceased person’s tax office to find out whether any other tax, such as Income Tax, is owed.
What happens if there is a joint account?
If there is a surviving joint owner, they would normally automatically own the money in the account. Send a death certificate to the bank or financial institution so they can update their records. The value of the deceased person’s share is included when calculating the value of the estate for IHT.
What happens if there is a jointly owned property?
If the deceased person owned property with another person as ‘beneficial joint tenants’ (‘survivorship destination’ in Scotland’) their share of the property automatically passes to the surviving joint owner. The property doesn’t form part of the estate, but the value of the person’s share is included when calculating the value of the estate for IHT.
What happens if they had a Pension scheme?
If the deceased person had a pension, contact the company and provide a death certificate. Ask whether death benefits are payable and whether there is a pension scheme for a spouse, civil partner or children. Confirm whether any money will be paid directly to someone, rather than forming part of the estate. If the money does form part of the estate, check that the amount doesn’t need to be included in any IHT return.
What if I change my mind about being the executor?
Being an executor is a role for life; if any claims against the estate come up in the future, you will have to deal with them, and you must carry out your duties correctly. Think carefully before accepting the role as it can be difficult to go back on your decision later. You won’t be able to step down once you have started your duties as executor.
If you have accepted the role but change your mind:
- Before the person who appointed you dies, talk to them about your decision so they can change their will.
- If you change your mind immediately after the person who appointed you has died, speak to the Probate Registry or to a legal professional about your options.
- After the person has died but before you start to deal with the estate, you may need to complete a form of renunciation.
- After the person has died and when you’ve started to deal with the estate, you cannot step down unless you have a genuine reason such as ill health or a family emergency. In Scotland, you can step down if you’re not the only executor named in the will, in which case you have to appoint someone to take your place before you resign. However, if you live in Northern Ireland, you can only appoint someone to act in your place if you are incapable of dealing with your own affairs.
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