The Key Duties of An Executor

It is an honour to be asked to be an executor of an estate after their death.  It means that the person asking you trusts you to manage their affairs after their death and carry out the instructions of their Will.  However, an executor has a lot of duties, which can last for many years.  Therefore, you should consider carefully whether you have the time and desire to take on such a vast responsibility.

A solicitor can assist you with your responsibilities as an executor.  Here are the main duties you will undertake in the role and how a private client lawyer can advise you.

Register the death and obtain copies of the Will

Executors (who are often immediate family members) must register the death of the testator.  The family doctor will also need to be notified.  You can use the ‘Tell Us Once[1]‘ service to report the death of a person to most government agencies in one go.  Your solicitor or a registrar at the court can let you know if this service is available in your area.

You will also need to notify any local services such as meals on wheels or local libraries.  Clubs and societies the deceased belonged to will also have to be told, and subscriptions to magazines and online services cancelled.  If the person had a social media presence, their accounts would need to be closed (Facebook allows you to set up a memorial page).

You will need to obtain copies of the death certificate and a copy of the Will.  A solicitor can assist you with locating the Will and make copies for you to give to any co-executors and beneficiaries.  They can also store the original Will in a safe place.

Arrange the funeral

The testator may have laid out certain wishes regarding their funeral in their Will.  Make sure you check the document to see if any specific location or music has been requested.  The Will normally states whether the deceased wished to be buried or cremated.  Even if you are a close family member and had discussed funeral wishes prior to the testator’s death, it is worth checking the Will in case a request was added without your knowledge.

The Will may also state if the testator wished to donate any part of their body for transplant or other medical purposes.

Funeral expenses are payable out of the estate if:

  • they are reasonable in relation to the deceased’s status in life or
  • they are authorised under the Will

Provided there are sufficient available assets these can often be paid from the Estate.

Value the estate

One of the primary duties of an executor is to collect the assets of the estate and ensure they are kept safe for the beneficiaries of the Will.  Part of this procedure will include:

  • locating and obtaining the deceased’s title deeds or Land Certificates
  • collating the deceased’s documents supporting the existence of assets and liabilities, e.g. account books, life policies, share certificates, cheque books and credit cards
  • collect any loose cash

You will also need to value the contents of the deceased’s estate.  Take stock of all the assets and liabilities at the time of death.  You may need to arrange a professional valuer to determine the worth of any property or business assets.  A solicitor can assist you with arranging this and collating the information as it can be extremely time consuming.  For example, a copy of the death certificate needs to be sent to all financial institutions the testator may have money, pensions, and insurance policies.  Certain factors need to be taken in to account when valuing some types of assets and considering the availability of tax reliefs.

Applying for grant of probate

A grant of probate (or letters of administration) permits you to administer the deceased’s estate.  Probate can be complex, and it is highly advisable to instruct an experienced solicitor to make the application on your behalf.  One of the main causes of delay of grant of probate is the incorrect completion of forms.  A solicitor will ensure everything is documented and filed correctly

First, you need to check if probate is essential.  If the estate is valued at under £5,000, probate is unlikely to be required.

To apply for a grant of probate your solicitor needs to take the following four steps:

  1. complete a probate application form
  2. complete an Inheritance Tax form
  3. send the application to the local Probate Registry
  4. swear an oath – this needs to be done in person, in front of your solicitor or at the Probate Registry

If Inheritance Tax is due some or all of this may need to be paid before probate is granted.  In some cases the deceased’s assets can be used to pay any tax due but in others the money must be borrowed from Beneficiries or Banks..

Once probate has been granted (this can take as little as 4-6 weeks for simple estates or many months if the estate is worth a great deal and contains many assets), you may begin to distribute the contents of the estate in accordance with the instructions left in the Will.  Inheritance tax and all other liabilities will also need to be paid.

In summary

The responsibilities of being an executor need to be taken seriously.  Although there are many low-cost probate services available, the concept of ‘getting what you pay for’ does apply.  Even seemingly simple estates can turn out to be more complex than originally perceived.  If you have been appointed as an executor, it is worth taking to an experienced private client solicitor, who can give you confidence that you are executing your duties correctly and as per the wishes of the deceased.

Hart Reade Solicitors is a full-service law firm with offices in Eastbourne, Hailsham, Polegate and Meads.  We hold a Lexcel accreditation from the Law Society of England and Wales and are a member of Solicitors for the Elderly.  To make an appointment with one of our private client solicitors, please phone our office on 01323 727 321.

Please note, this article does not constitute legal advice.

[1] https://www.gov.uk/after-a-death/organisations-you-need-to-contact-and-tell-us-once

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