What are my responsibilities as an executor?

Last Will and testament document with pen

An executor is a person named in a Will who is responsible for the administration and distribution of the estate of a deceased person.

If you are named as an executor in a Will, chances are the deceased has spoken to you about the role and put his/her trust in you to make sure the terms of the Will are carried out. In most instances, if you are the executor, you also have a copy of the Will or know where it is kept.

The basic duties of an executor are to collect the assets of the deceased, pay taxes and debts, and distribute the estate to the beneficiaries according to the terms of the Will. But in reality, the executor usually does more and is likely to take on the followings:

  • Registering the death
  • Making the funeral arrangements
  • Locating property belonging to the deceased
  • Valuing the estate
  • Paying any inheritance tax and other debts
  • Applying for probate
  • Placing a deceased estates notice
  • Selling of assets
  • Distributing the estate according to the Will
  • Recording all transactions

Depending on the terms of the Will and the nature of the estate, sometimes as an executor you do require help from an experienced Probate Solicitor like us to complete the legal documents and make sure everything is done correctly and you are not being held liable.

In the next section, we will detail each step relating to an estate worth more than £5,000 in England, as a small estate less than £5,000 is straightforward and doesn’t require a grant of probate.

Registering the death

When someone passes in England, the next of kin or the executor will get a medical certificate from the hospital doctor or permission from the coroner, before making an appointment at the nearest registry office to register the death. The register office will tell you what documents are needed (usually proof of address, driving license and marriage certificate are among the documents required).

The register office will then issue you:

  • A Certificate for Burial or Cremation (the ‘green form’); this gives permission for burial or an application for cremation.
  • A Certificate of Registration of Death (form BD8) – you may need to fill this in and return it if the person was getting a State Pension or benefits (the form will come with a pre-paid envelope so you know where to send it)

In most instances, please buy extra death certificates as you are likely to give a copy to the deceased’s banks, utility companies, insurance, the government (when you use the “Tell Us Once” service), and/or other organisations involved.

The Tell Us Once service will also require you to provide the following details of the deceased:

  • Date of birth
  • National Insurance number
  • Driving licence number
  • Vehicle registration number
  • Passport number

You’ll also need:

  • Details of any benefits or entitlements the deceased was getting – for example State Pension
  • Details of any local council services the deceased was getting – for example Blue Badge
  • Name, address, telephone number and the National Insurance number or date of birth of any surviving spouse or civil partner
  • Name and address of their next of kin – if there is no surviving spouse or civil partner or their spouse or civil partner is not able to deal with their affairs
  • You the executor’s name, address and contact details
  • Details of any public sector or armed forces pension schemes the deceased was getting or paying in to

Making the funeral arrangements

Once you have the Certificate for Burial or Cremation, you the executor can talk to a funeral director and make the necessary arrangements. The deceased’s Will may also contain specific instructions like what to do with the ashes after a cremation.

The costs of the funeral usually come from the deceased’s estate but as the money will only be made available after probate, the executor usually covers the costs first.

Locating property belonging to the deceased

In this process, you the executor will locate all the assets of the deceased owned at the time of the death (hopefully they are stated in the Will too). Find out the bank accounts, possessions and property, along with debts like mortgages, loans and bills.

When it comes to property, if you aren’t sure if the deceased owned a house, you can search the Land Registry website to find property ownership information. On the other hand, if the house owned by the deceased is now unoccupied, you will need to secure it and inform the insurance accordingly.

Valuing the estate

Valuing the estate is a time-consuming process as you the executor must liaison with different organisations and professional valuers to determine the worth of the estate.

Valuing big items like property are relatively easy as a local Chartered Surveyor can provide an accurate valuation. However, valuing contents in the house can be tricky as most items may not be valuable. To make it easier, make a list of items that may have value. Look for paintings, antique furniture, pieces of jewellery and get them to professional valuers to determine their worth. You may also want to contact a house clearance company to remove unwanted items and prepare the house for sale.

As you can see, this is a complicated step and you may even find it exceptionally hard as you are still grieving. To lighten your load, give our Probate Solicitors a call on 0208 520 4555 as we can certainly help you with this and other steps required following the death of a loved one.

Paying Inheritance Tax

Depending on the value of the estate and how the estate is being distributed, there may be Inheritance Tax to pay. This tax will be paid by the estate rather than individual beneficiaries.

As an executor, you must value the estate, complete the appropriate forms and pay any tax due. In addition, you will need to list any major gifts made by the deceased in the past seven years as they may be liable for Inheritance Tax too.

At present, there are three instances where the estate does not need to pay Inheritance Tax in England and Wales:

  • When the total value of the estate is below the £325,000 threshold.
  • When the deceased leaves everything (even if the value is greater than £325,000) to the spouse or civil partner. This is because asset transfer between spouses is not liable for Inheritance Tax.
  • When the deceased leaves everything (even if the value is greater than £325,000) to charitable causes.

In addition, there are more complicated scenarios like when the deceased leaves the house to the children or grandchildren, then the residence nail-rate band will kick in and how much extra tax-free amount the estate gets depends on the tax year. Also, when the deceased leaves at least 10% of the net value to a charity, the Inheritance Tax bill will decrease from 40% to 36%. It is best that you talk to one of our Probate Solicitors so we can review your circumstances and advise accordingly.

Applying for probate

Once any Inheritance Tax owed is paid, you can then apply for a grant of probate. While you can apply for a grant yourself, hiring a Probate Solicitor means you don’t even have to think about this step or any other processes involved. We will work alongside you and make sure that everything is done correctly and efficiently.

Placing a deceased estates notice

In some instances, you the executor may not be aware of debts owed by the deceased. Accordingly, you may place a deceased estates notice in a local newspaper and in The Gazette to alert any potential creditors, giving them a chance to come forward and make a claim.

If you do not make any effort to find these creditors, you will be personally liable for debts owed by the deceased since you are the executor. If you engage our probate service, our Probate Solicitors will publish these notices for you and provide the right advice so you have peace of mind during these trying times.

Selling of assets

If the deceased owned a house, and assuming that there aren’t any surviving joint owners and there aren’t any specific instructions (like transferring the house to one of the beneficiaries), the executor can decide what to do with it. In most instances, the executor chooses to sell the house, use the proceeds to pay debts (like mortgages) and distribute the remaining sums according to the terms in the Will.

One of the main issues here is the sale price. As an executor, you may want to sell the house quickly and complete your duties as an executor as soon as possible. As such, you may accept an offer from a potential buyer. On the other hand, the beneficiaries may want to wait for a higher offer as they want to maximise their inheritance. This is a tricky situation and most executors will gladly leave the sale of a probate property to an experienced Probate Solicitor instead. Call us on 0208 520 4555 if you need a complete probate service from our independent and trusted solicitors.

Distributing the estate according to the Will

Once all the assets are located, valued and sold, the money should be used to pay debts and expenses first, before distributing the remaining amount to the beneficiaries according to the wishes of the deceased stated in the Will. Generally, it is a good idea to wait at least six months after a probate is granted before distributing the assets. This is to make sure that there are no claims made against the estate by someone who can challenge the Will under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975.

Nowadays, most of us have a pension scheme or two. If the deceased had a pension, then you must check with the provider if the money could be paid into someone or should it be part of the estate. This process applies to life insurance policies too.

Be mindful of beneficiaries who are bankrupt – in this case, you must pay the inheritance into the Trustee in Bankruptcy or Official Receiver so they can manage the funds and pay to creditors accordingly. If you pay directly to the beneficiary who is bankrupt, you will be held accountable. The Trustee in Bankruptcy is likely to claim from you the amount paid by you to the bankrupt person.

The question most executors have is how do they know if the beneficiary is bankrupt? This is a responsibility that you the executor must undertake to check, and this is why working with a Probate Solicitor like us is useful as we can do the necessary search for you.

Recording all transactions

As an executor, you must keep a set of account detailing every transaction in and out of the estate. Usually, an estate account will include:

  • All assets and their values at the time of death.
  • All liabilities and their values at the time of death.
  • Inheritance Tax account, money paid to HMRC.
  • Capital account, money gained or lost from the valued assets.
  • Income account, money gained after the time of death until when the assets are realised or transferred.
  • Expense account, money paid to the court, surveyors, conveyancing, estate agents, legal advisors, bankruptcy search, among others.
  • Distribution account, money paid to each beneficiary.

Other scenarios where a Probate Solicitor can make a difference

Most people appoint more than one executor in case one of them is not available when the time comes. This good practice can turn into a nightmare if relationships between executors break down or if they cannot agree on how to proceed. In this instance, it is best to get help from a Probate Solicitor who is impartial.

Other scenarios where our solicitors can make a difference include:

  • When the estate is insolvent
  • When the estate includes foreign property or foreign assets
  • When the deceased was living outside the UK
  • When the deceased had assets held in a trust
  • When there is a company involved

Romain Coleman can help executors

Being an executor is a challenging job. You are required to take on responsibilities and navigate processes which you may not be familiar with at a time when you are grieving. Consider getting help from a qualified, independent and trusted Probate Solicitor like our team here at Romain Coleman instead.

Established in 1964, we have been helping families across London with probate following the death of a loved one. We help our clients understand the responsibilities of being an executor and provide expertise in areas such as Inheritance Tax, bankruptcy search and deceased estates notice, among others.

If you would like to talk to someone for any further advice on your duties as an executor, please contact us on 0208 520 4555 or use the Online Enquiry to get in touch. The first meeting is free, so we can better understand your situations, how we can help you and the costs involved. Our fee structure is transparent with no hidden charges.

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This post is not legal advice and should not replace professional advice tailored to your specific circumstances. It is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.