Don’t want to act as the executor of a will? Worried that the executor of a family member’s will seems to be doing nothing? Here’s everything you need to know about organising the renunciation of an executor.


The executor of a will is responsible for winding down an estate after the will-writer has died. It’s gratifying to be asked, but it can be a tough and time-consuming task. So, what do you do if you don’t want to act as the executor when the time comes? Can an executor resign?


Can an executor resign after the will-writer has died?

Yes, absolutely! As long as you haven’t started sorting out the estate (or ‘intermeddling’) you can resign as executor of a will using a renunciation of executor form. This is sometimes called a ‘deed of renunciation’.


Why would someone renounce their executor duties?

All sorts of reasons. For example…

  • You don’t have the time or energy to settle the estate now
  • The will-writer never asked you if you wanted to be executor in the first place
  • You’re worried about getting it wrong, as executors are liable for any mistakes
  • The estate is insolvent (there’s more debt than money)
  • You want to challenge the will (and so have a conflict of interest)
  • There’s family conflict, and you don’t want to get involved

Luckily, if you act quickly you can resign as executor of a will pretty easily.


How to resign as executor of a will:

  1. Buy or download the renunciation of executor form. You can download a basic form from the UK gov site here or ask a solicitor to draw one up for you.
  2. Sign the form with an unbiased witness. Your witness can’t be someone named in the will or a relative of the person who has died. 
  3. Submit the form to the Probate Registry. Until you do, you can take your resignation back. But once you’ve lodged the form with the Probate Registry (along with the will or a certified copy), only a district judge or registrar can reverse it.
  4. That’s it! If there are other executors named in the will, they can take it from here. If not, the next-of-kin can apply for letters of administration.

An alternative to renouncing the executor role is to ask a professional to act for you. This is often best if you’re worried about being liable for mistakes or if there’s an ongoing family dispute. Find out about Beyond’s professional estate administration service here.


What counts as ‘intermeddling’ in an estate?

Intermeddling usually means handling the assets of the person who has died or otherwise putting yourself forward as the executor in some way. For example, transferring assets to heirs, paying debts or informing the bank that the person has died.

There are a few things that aren’t considered intermeddling, even though there’s some overlap with the duties of an executor. Arranging the funeral is one. Securing assets, so that they’re safe, is another.

This is a murky area. Aside from the funeral, it’s best not to get involved with the estate at all if you’re planning on renouncing the executor role.


Alternatives to the renunciation of executor form

Can you refuse to be the executor of a will without using the renunciation of executor form? Well, you can’t simply not do anything: the will’s beneficiaries will get upset. But there are other ways.

Here’s how to decline being executor of a will without renouncing:


Ask a professional to act as executor on your behalf

What if you have intermeddled? Can an executor resign after probate, for example? The good news is a professional can pick up the estate administration process at any point.

Good for:

  • Making sure a complicated estate is settled properly
  • Avoiding liability for mistakes
  • Getting an unbiased executor to handle any conflicts
  • No effort whatsoever — the professional will take care of it all for you


Take ‘power reserved’

If you have not applied for probate yet and there are other executors, you can sign a ‘notice of power reserved’ and provide it to the court. This means the other executors can get on with settling the estate without needing anything from you. 

Good for:

  • When you are out of the country and therefore can’t help the other executors
  • When you’re unwell and not able to take on an executor’s duties
  • If you want to reserve the right to act as executor later on — you can take it back


What happens if an executor refuses to act, but won’t renounce?

If the executor of a will refuses to apply for probate, the next-of-kin or a beneficiary can compel them to either accept a grant or let someone else get one instead.


If the executor hasn’t intermeddled with the estate…

…Basically, if they haven’t done anything at all, the steps are (roughly):

  • Give notice. You need to tell the executor that you will be applying to court to ask if someone else could settle the estate.
  • Secure the will. If you don’t have the original will because the executor is holding on to it, you’ll have to arrange for a subpoena to be served telling them to hand it over to you within 8 days.
  • Lodge a citation at court. This essentially makes it so that the executor has to either accept the grant of probate or officially refuse it. If they refuse or fail to make an appearance, they can lose their executor-ship. The court can then give you the grant of probate (and thus the ability to settle the estate) instead.


If the executor has intermeddled…

…But six months has passed since the death and they still haven’t applied for probate, the process is a little different. You can:

  • Lodge a citation at court. This time, you’ll be asking the executor to demonstrate that they don’t need a grant. If they don’t make an appearance or apply for a grant in the meantime, it’s on to step 2…
  • Seek a court order. The court could give the executor a time limit within which they have to apply for probate and/or give you (as next-of-kin/beneficiary) the right to apply for the grant instead.

This is very much a simplified version of what would happen. If you’re dealing with a reluctant executor, it’s important to get legal advice from a professional.

Remember that probate does take a lot of time and effort! On average, estates take 9-12 months to wind down. It can be longer if there’s property to sell. The executor might not be dithering: they may just have a lot to sort out before they can hand over your inheritance.


Beyond’s professional estate administration

If you’d like to get an estate settled quickly and professionally, we’d love to help you. 

Our fixed-fee estate administration service can take care of everything an executor needs to do — and plenty of things they don’t, like rehoming pets or redirecting post. Call us on 0800 054 9896. to get a quote or find out more here.

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