Being appointed as an Executor to an individual’s Will can feel like a great honour but with it comes a lot of responsibilities.
Unless you are a professional such as a solicitor, the chances are you won’t have been through the process before so you may find yourself with a lot to do and no idea where to start.
Here’s a guide to some of the essentials you need to know as an Executor.
1) Where do I find a copy of the Will?
This is a tricky one. You may have been given a copy of the Will when you were appointed as Executor but if you haven’t – or you have misplaced it – you need to try and track down where it may have kept.
Most people regard their Will as an extremely important documents so you will need to search through their private paperwork in desk drawers and personal files. This may feel invasive but as an Executor you not only have the right to do so, but also an obligation.
If you cannot find it at the individual’s home, you can check with their bank as they may have lodged it with them for safe-keeping. Similarly for any solicitors you know the deceased used. If you have no idea which solicitor would have been used, you can pay a fee to have a Will search carried out.
Another place to try is the Probate registry; they can carry out a search if you provide a copy of the death certificate.
2) Is everyone entitled to see a copy of the Will?
A Will is not a public document and until Probate is granted, only the Executor has the right to view its contents.
If you are not the Executor and you try to get a copy from either the solicitors or Probate registry, your request will be refused.
3) What do I need to do as an Executor?
As Executor of the Will, jointly or singly, there are several obligations you must fulfil and duties you must carry out:
- identify all the assets, liabilities and other financial affairs relating to the deceased and deal with them
- complete a valuation of the estate
- take responsibility for submission and payment of Inheritance Tax
- collect all the assets and sell them at the correct price when required
- pay any debts relating to the deceased
- apply and obtain probate
- distribute the contents of the estate in accordance with the deceased’s wishes
4) What happens when there is more than one Executor – who does what?
It is not uncommon for more than one Executor to be appointed, this helps to safeguard against the need to redo the Will if one of them dies before the testator.
Up to four Executors can apply for a Grant of Probate but it is not necessary to have that many; one person can act in the same capacity.
If you have several people acting as Executors there are a few different ways to approach the administration of the estate.
You can opt to have all decisions made jointly. However, this can be inconvenient and time-consuming if the individuals live in different towns or places. Alternatively, you could decide to appoint the most experienced individual – or the one with the most spare time – to deal with things on behalf of all Executors.
Another option is to act jointly but appoint a solicitor to deal with the practicalities.
5) What if I don’t want to be an Executor?
If you have been appointed as an Executor but don’t wish to accept, you can either renounce your right to act or instead have ‘power reserved’.
If you opt for the former, you lose the right to obtain a Grant of Probate. If you opt for the latter, you allow the other Executors to act but reserve the right to intervene and obtain a Grant of Probate at a later stage if you believe they are not acting correctly.
6) What is the most common mistake made by an Executor?
Without question, nearly every individual who has never acted as an Executor before underestimates the amount of time and effort dealing with all of the paperwork and red tape takes.
This can lead to money being paid out too soon as beneficiaries put pressure on the Executor to start distributing the estate before the process has been completed. This is a particular risk if there is ready cash available. Whilst this might work out fine, if debts arise which the Executor did not initially know about it can mean having to reclaim money, a very awkward position to be in.
If there are problems with the Will such as beneficiaries who have already died or assets mentioned have been sold or no longer exist, it is essential to ensure that you understand what your legal obligations are. In these cases, or almost always if the estate is large enough to warrant an Inheritance Tax bill, it is a good idea to seek professional advice from a solicitor.
7) What if there is not enough money to pay the deceased’s liabilities?
No matter what the deceased intended to do with their money, any debts they have must take priority. However, in some cases there are not enough assets to pay off what is owed.
If this is the case as an Executor you must be extremely careful about what you pay as you cannot operate on a first-come, first-served basis. There are strict rules about the order in which creditors are entitled to receive their money and if you get this wrong, you could be held personally liable for the debts. Legal advice is highly recommended in these circumstances.
8) How is the estate valued?
The value of items can fluctuate, especially for assets such as stocks and shares. For this reason, the date of valuation is fixed so that individuals cannot simply pick and choose the best date to use.
All assets are valued as at the date of death, and the market value is the figure which is used. In some cases this may be lower than the amount they are insured for.
As the value of the estate is used to calculate whether Inheritance Tax is payable and also how much each beneficiary is due it is essential the figure used is accurate.
For ordinary items with a value of less than £500 you are not required to obtain a formal valuation but for property, businesses and other more complex assets, it is essential to get a professional to provide an estimate.
9) How does an Executor apply for a Grant of Probate?
The majority of applications for Probate are made using a solicitor or notary public, but it is possible to complete the process yourself.
You must value the estate before making your application as you will need to know if Inheritance Tax is payable. PA1 is the form which starts the process; whilst those with no tax payable should complete IHT205 and those who have identified tax is payable should complete forms IHT400 and IHT421.
Applicants will be required to swear an oath and may be asked to attend an interview if there are any questions.
10) What are the advantages of getting a solicitor to help with the estate and Probate?
If you are the named Executor you may decide to deal with the whole process yourself. However, there are some circumstances where it may be beneficial to get professional assistance:
- a complex estate with trusts and business assets for example
- a valuable estate where Inheritance tax is payable
- if the Will has been contested or you have reason to believe it will be
- there is a question over the validity of the Will
- practical issues (such as work, location etc.) prevent you from having the time or ability to carry out your responsibilities
Being an Executor is a huge responsibility and getting things right is essential if you want to ensure that not only are the deceased’s final wishes carried out correctly but also that you don’t risk being sued or having to pay out money yourself.
By Nathan Griffiths who advises getting professional advice from a solicitor (such as Tollers) on being a will executor is an excellent idea.