If you’ve been named as an executor in a will, it’s essential to understand your responsibilities and what steps you need to take. As an executor, you’re responsible for dealing with the estate of the deceased person (i.e. all their property and financial assets) and distributing it to the beneficiaries named in the will.
Firstly, it’s important to note that you don’t have to act as an executor if you don’t want to. You can either give up your right to act as executor permanently by renouncing or you can appoint someone else as an attorney to act on your behalf. More information of renouncing can be found on the government website.
If you do decide to take on your role as executor, you’ll need to start by locating the deceased’s original will. It may be with their lawyer, at their home, or in a safe deposit box at their bank. Ensure that you have the original, signed version.
You will need to register the death at a register office . You can contact any register office, but it will be quicker if you use the one in the area where the person died. The register office will tell you what you need to do when you contact them, including which documents you’ll need to bring with you.
Once you’ve registered the death, you’ll get a certificate for burial or cremation (the “green form”) which gives you permission for a burial or to apply for a cremation. You’ll also be able to buy copies of the death certificate which proves the death has been registered.
If the death was unexpected and the cause of death is unknown, sudden, or unexplained, it may be reported to the coroner. The coroner will give you the documents you need, or they’ll send them direct to the register office. If there’s no inquest, you’ll be able to buy death certificates after you’ve registered the death. If an inquest is required, then you’ll receive an interim death certificate, and the full death certificate will be issued once the inquest is concluded.
Once the death has been registered, you’ll need to find all the financial documentation belonging to the person who has died and create a comprehensive list of their assets and liabilities. This includes bank accounts, investments, property, debts such as credit cards, and any other financial or tangible assets. You will also need to establish whether they held any digital assets such as bitcoin or cryptoassets.
You should send a copy of the death certificate to the organisations that hold their money and ask for confirmation of the value of the money held at the date of death as well as the amount of income received in the last tax year up to the date of death. The banks will freeze the accounts so that no one can take money out without the correct legal authority. You’ll also need to find out details of any money owned to the deceased or owed by them.
Once you have details about the deceased’s assets and liabilities, you’ll be able to calculate the value of the estate by deducting the assets from the liabilities , complete the inheritance tax paperwork, work out the inheritance tax due, and arrange to pay it.
If the estate includes substantial assets or property, you may need to apply for a grant of probate . This legal document gives you the authority to administer the estate. If the estate is small or straightforward, probate may not be necessary.
Once the grant has issued you can collect in money belonging to the estate from banks, insurance companies, pension funds, and building societies, and sell or transfer properties that form part of the estate.
After this you’ll need to pay debts, expenses, and liabilities, such as lawyers’ fees, and the balance of any inheritance tax due.
If it appears there are not enough assets in the estate to cover the outstanding tax, expenses, bills, and other liabilities the estate will be classed as insolvent, and you should seek the advice of a lawyer. Administering an insolvent estate can be very complicated.
You should inform the beneficiaries named in the will about their entitlements and keep them updated on the process of the estate administration.
Once you’ve collected in the assets and paid the liabilities and debts, you can distribute the estate to the beneficiaries according to the instructions in the will. Make sure you keep detailed records of all financial transactions and communications related to the estate. This will be crucial if any questions or disputes arise later.
You will need to prepare estate accounts showing all income, expenses, and distributions. These accounts may need to be approved by the beneficiaries, and in some cases, submitted to the court.
Once you’ve ensured that all legal formalities have been complied with, including filing tax returns, and notifying the relevant authorities, you can wind up the administration of the estate. They may involve obtaining a clearance certificate from HM Revenue and Customs in respect of inheritance tax.
If you’re unsure about any aspect of your role as an executor, it’s wise to seek legal and/or financial advice. Executors can be held personally liable for mistakes or mishandling of the estate, which could lead to [please include what? Fines?]
Remember that being an executor is a significant responsibility, and the specific steps you need to take can vary depending on the complexity of the estate. It’s advisable to consult a member of the Association of Lifetime Lawyers to guide you through the process. To find a Lifetime Lawyer near you, head to our find a lawyer page.