Once the owner of a will dies, is the document set in stone, or can an executor change a will? 

There are a couple of different reasons you might be asking this question: you may be wondering whether an executor is behaving lawfully, or you may personally feel that changes need to be made to the will of someone who’s died. Here, we’ll talk you through what is — and isn’t — possible.


Can an executor change a will after the death of the testator?

No. The executors of a will have a duty to act in the best interests of the estate and the people named in it. So, an executor can’t change the will without the permission of the beneficiaries.

It is technically possible to make changes to a will by creating a deed of variation. But the will’s executor can’t do this alone. A deed of variation must be signed by anyone whose share of the inheritance would be reduced by the changes. 

So, can the executor of a will change it to remove beneficiaries? No. If you’re named in the will as a beneficiary, the executor won’t be able to reduce the amount you’re entitled to — unless, of course, you agree.


When might the distribution of assets differ from what’s stated in the will?

Can an executor override a will or a beneficiary? No; but that doesn’t necessarily mean that wills are always carried out exactly as written.

Sometimes it might be impossible to carry out the terms of a will. For example, the will may try to bequeath property that the person who died no longer owned. In that case, of course, it won’t be possible for that property to pass to a beneficiary.

If someone dies with debts, these will usually need to be paid out of their estate right away. This may reduce the amount beneficiaries get, if the debt is extensive. The executor will need to distribute what is left according to the legal order of priority, and some beneficiaries may end up getting less than the will suggests.

If the will is a little vague, the executor may need to interpret what it means. For example, what happens if someone wants their possessions to be divided equally between their two children? It’s easy to divide four chairs equally, but you can’t saw through a table and offer half to each beneficiary. 

In cases like this, the executor will need to work with the beneficiaries involved to decide how to distribute the possessions in a way that feels fair.


Does the executor of a will have the final say?

Does the executor have the final say? Yes, but only if they comply with the law.

The executor needs to follow the will, and to act in the best interests of the beneficiaries and the estate. So long as they stay within those boundaries, they do have the final say.

Can an executor ignore a will, though? Absolutely not. If the executor tries to withhold bequests, or if they act against the interests of the beneficiaries – for example, by selling property at an unreasonably low price – they can be taken to court.


What to do if the executor does not follow the will

If you’re a residuary beneficiary, you have the right to see the estate accounts. These should show all transactions that have taken place during the settling of the estate.

Once the estate has been fully distributed, you can ask to see the accounts. This lets you check that the estate has been dealt with in accordance with the will. If you find that the executor hasn’t been carrying out their duties properly, you can hire a solicitor and take them to court.

In order to take legal action against an executor, you will need to be either a beneficiary or another executor of the same estate.


How can Beyond help?

One way to avoid trouble with executors is to leave the administration of the estate in the hands of unbiased professionals. We offer a fixed-fee estate administration service that takes care of everything for you. We work quickly, we have years of experience and we’ll keep you updated every step of the way.

Click here to find out more, or call us on 0800 054 9896.

Don’t forget: You need a will, too

Estates are far easier to settle when there’s a clear, legal and fair will in place. So, it’s important to do the right thing by your loved ones and make one — and in a timely manner. It’s easy to put it off, but it’s far better to have peace of mind.

If you’ve been meaning to write your will, Beyond can help: we offer wills for just £90, or £135 for couples. And you can even make your will online, from the comfort of home. Our legal experts will be on hand via phone, email or chat to help you out every step of the way.

And with unlimited updates, you can log in and tweak your will whenever a big change comes your way.

Find out more about making your will online here.

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