Being an executor. What does this mean?

If a relative or close friend has died, they may have named you as an Executor in their Will.

Many people are understandably unsure what this involves.

Acting as an Executor in the administration of a deceased’s affairs (their Estate) carries considerable legal, administrative and tax responsibilities for which the Executor can be personally liable if mistakes are made.

Even if you feel the matters are straightforward, it is still a sensible idea to telephone us for a quick chat (we charge no fee for the telephone advice) to ensure you are fully aware of what’s involved.

We can then also arrange a meeting to go through the paperwork in more detail, the cost of which would be met from the assets of the deceased, and not you.

So. What does being an Executor actually entail?

The general term Personal Representative (PR) is given to the person responsible for dealing with the Estate – that is, all the assets, possessions, liabilities and responsibilities of the deceased.

If named in the Will, they are known as Executors. If not, they will be Administrators.

If there is no Will, or there is a Will but no Executor named or still alive or willing to act, then the post of Administrator is determined by strict rules laid down by law. A quick phone call to us will assist you in determining who this is.

The PRs must ensure that everything is carried out in accordance with the law (and the wishes of the deceased as stated in the Will).

If not, the PR may find himself or herself personally liable to those who were underpaid.

They may also face personal tax penalties from H.M. Revenue & Customs, if any of the following should occur:

If incorrect amounts are given to beneficiaries
If assets are wrongly distributed
If creditors are not identified, and money is distributed to beneficiaries when it should have been paid to creditors
If beneficiaries are not found, perhaps because they are not known about
If wrong valuations are submitted to H.M. Revenue & Customs, resulting in incorrect amounts of inheritance tax being paid

The most common mistake PRs make at the outset of an administration is to underestimate both the amount of work involved and the time it takes.

It is not unusual for estate administrations to take many months, or even years, to complete.

This is why few people contemplate undertaking the role without the assistance of specialist solicitors.

Some Executors feel that, having been named, they should try to deal with everything themself as otherwise they would be ‘letting down’ the deceased who appointed them.

This is generally a misplaced sense of guilt as the deceased will usually have named a person as an Executor because they could be trusted to ensure everything was dealt with correctly.

In all but the simplest and most modest estates this would sensibly involve utilising the professional services of solicitors to deal with all legal aspects of the administration.

This frees the PR to deal with important personal considerations such as the funeral and funeral reception, memorial stone, handling personal effects (and possibly pets) and working with estate agents for the sale of property.

Can you refuse to act?

Yes. But you should bear in mind that somebody will have act as the PR.

If you are concerned about the responsibility then we suggest you contact us to arrange an initial meeting.

We can then go through what is involved and explain in detail what needs to be done and in what order.

We can also provide you with options.

You may find some matters are more straightforward than you thought.

If this is the case it is sensible for you to contact all the asset holders and any creditors to establish the value of the estate, and for us to deal with the legal aspects of obtaining a Grant and completing the inheritance tax return.

If the Estate is more complex, then it would be better for us to deal with all legal and tax aspects of the administration.

You will still acting as PR, signing withdrawal and share sale forms, swearing the Oath to apply for the Grant and keeping overall responsibility.

In cases where you feel you would be unable or unwilling to act at all, you could also sign a Power of Attorney to enable us to act on your behalf.

Alternatively, there may be some other person who could act as attorney in your place.