What does it mean to be an executor of a will?

The executor of a will is a person responsible for dealing with the estate of a deceased person. The executor is named by the person making the will, the testator, as being responsible for dealing with their estate after they have passed away.

Being asked to be an executor of a will can be a great honour, but it carries with it considerable responsibility. It is, therefore, important that when a person appoints an executor that they make sure that their chosen individual or individuals are made aware of their appointment, and that they are happy to take on the responsibility.

From experience, it is not uncommon for people to find out they have been named as an executor only after the testator has passed away. This is something we advise is best avoided.

In all circumstances, if you are named as an executor, then the person making the will is expressing their trust and faith in you by asking you to have legal responsibility for implementing their final wishes.

Who to choose as an executor?

The main requirements are to be over 18 and mentally capable of carrying out the role. However, this is rarely enough to be assured that the job will be completed effectively, as there are many complicated legal issues which need to be considered.

It is important to think carefully about the choice of executor and their personal circumstances, including considerations about their age and health.

Between one and four people can be chosen to be executors of a will. In simpler wills with smaller estates, one executor is often sufficient. However, in cases where a trust is involved, or the estate is large or complex, then it is best advised to appoint more than one person. In these cases, the testator should choose individuals they believe can work harmoniously together without bias.

Most often, people will choose trusted friends or family members, but it is also a sensible option to appoint a legal professional. This will put less responsibility and pressure on their grieving friends or relatives at a delicate and sensitive time.

Furthermore, a legal professional can remain impartial during this difficult time. It is also important that whoever becomes the executor feels comfortable taking on the responsibility of the role and can be trusted to do it reliably.

The responsibilities involved in being an executor of a will

The main overarching responsibilities of an executor are to carry out the final wishes of the deceased and to manage their estate – which includes everything a person owns such as money, property, and possessions. It can seem complicated and intimidating, but these responsibilities can be broken down into a series of must-do tasks, including:

  • Legally registering the death.
  • Obtaining the will and making copies.
  • Helping to arrange the funeral.
  • Managing finances – identifying all assets and liabilities including any outstanding debts and paying any inheritance tax.
  • Property – either selling or transferring.
  • Collecting all assets and money due to the estate of the person who has died and closing the relevant bank accounts.
  • Distributing the estate to the people named as beneficiaries in the will.

How do you value the estate?

It is essential that any inheritance tax due is paid as soon as possible, and to do this a valuation of the estate is required. You should collect all the up-to-date information on the deceased person’s assets, including property, land, physical possessions, and finances. Any items worth over £500 are recommended to be valued professionally.

You should also take any debts the person owed into account – such as mortgages, loans and credit card bills. Please take advice if there are substantial debts, as the executor can unwittingly find themselves liable for those of the deceased person.

If the estate is worth a certain amount, usually around £325,000, then it is liable for inheritance tax. A full guide to the latest inheritance tax thresholds can be found here.

Applying for probate

If the value of the estate is below the threshold, applying for probate may not be necessary. However, it’s useful to get professional advice to get specific information; for example, through an experienced solicitor, here at Hutchinson Thomas, or through an accountant or the bank or building society that holds the assets.

It is normally necessary to authorize the executor to deal with the testator’s estate. As the executor, you will need to gather certain information and make a legal statement. In most cases this can be done online, though for any matters which occurred prior to Dec 31, 2021, paper forms can be obtained. You will need to register the required information with the Probate Registry, along with:

  • An official copy of the death certificate.
  • The original will.
  • Confirmation that tax has been paid on behalf of the deceased – this goes to HMRC.
  • Confirmation of payment in return for the production of the Grant, which is paid by the estate – HMRC should liaise with the Probate Registry on this.
  • Signatures from all executors.

You may also need to provide an account of details to the residuary beneficiaries. For example, if a percentage of the estate has been gifted to an individual or entity (e.g., a charity) then they will often want to make sure that the valuation of the estate is correct, and that they have been provided with the correct percentage of that, as stipulated in the will.

The task of being an executor of a will can seem like a complicated process and a weighty responsibility. However, each step of the way, our experienced wills, trusts and probate team can help you through the process in order to relieve pressure and make everything go as smoothly as possible.

At Hutchinson Thomas, we understand that each individual case will have its own solutions, so would encourage anyone with questions to contact our team today to learn more about how we can support you with appointing an executor for your will, act as executors, or help an executor complete their responsibilities.

If you would like more information or advice on any issues relating to wills, trusts or probate, contact Louise Williams on 01639 640153 or email louise.williams@hutchinsonthomas.com