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Whether you’re writing a will, or you’ve just been named as an executor in someone else’s, it’s important to understand what the duties of an executor are, and how they are (ideally) chosen.

Here’s a simple breakdown of what you need to know: answers to all the frequently asked questions about being an executor of a will (also known as an executor of the estate), and tips on where you can go to get advice.


What is an executor of a will?

An executor is a trusted person who has been chosen to deal with someone’s estate after they die. When someone dies, whoever has been named the executor of the will is responsible for settling their debts and making sure all property, investments and possessions go where they’re supposed to go.


Who can be an executor of a will?

Potentially, anyone can be chosen to deal with the estate, including beneficiaries of the will. It doesn’t have to be a solicitor, though some people do choose to appoint one as their executor.

If you’re writing your will, it’s important to choose your executor carefully. Look for someone you trust, who is well-organised, and who is likely to have the time to take care of this lengthy and labour-intensive process. Once you’ve narrowed it down, talk to them and make sure they’re happy to do it before you make your final decision.


What power does an executor of a will have?

The executor of a will won’t have any power until the owner of the will dies. After that, they have the power to access bank accounts, other financial assets, and all the paperwork related to the estate as well.

However, what they are allowed to do with this access is limited – they can only carry out the wishes in the will. And since the executor of the will is financially liable for any mistakes made when settling the estate, they also can be held accountable for any abuses of power.


What are the duties of an executor of a will?

So, what does an executor of a will do? Here’s what the role typically involves:

  • Registering the death. The executor doesn’t have to be the person to do this, but they will need copies of the Death Certificate that is given when the death is registered for their other duties.
  • Finding the will. The executor needs the original will for all the following steps. It’s a good idea to find it soon after the person dies: it may contain funeral wishes as well as details of the estate and any bequests. The National Will Register is an excellent place to start: it has records for over 8 million wills written by solicitors and will writers from all over the country. Find out more about how to locate a lost will here.
  • Telling any relevant authorities, banks, insurance companies and utility companies about the death*. For government authorities, you can use the ‘Tell us once’ service.
  • Valuing the estate*. This estate’s value includes any money, property, land, belongings, and assets like stocks and shares not owed elsewhere. Once the executor knows this, they can move on to …
  • Filling out an inheritance tax form*. Once this is filed, HMRC will tell the executor how much inheritance tax is owed (if any).
  • Applying for a grant of probate, if necessary*. A grant of probate gives the executor proof of their right to access and transfer the estate according to the wishes in the will.
  • Gathering the estate*. The grant of probate allows the executor to start gathering together all the funds and assets in an estate.
  • Paying for the funeral out of the estate*. Some banks will release this money without a grant of probate, depending on the amount and the bank.
  • Paying inheritance tax out of the estate*. If any is due.
  • Settling any remaining debts*. Usually you would place an advertisement asking anyone owed a part of the estate to step forward.
  • Paying any remaining taxes*. Such as Income and Capital Gains Tax for the year the person died, for example.
  • Transferring or selling property*. If required.
  • Distributing the person’s funds, assets and belongings as outlined in the will*. The will should state who is set to inherit what, and any conditions, as well. The executors main job is making sure that the wishes of the person who has died are fulfilled. These can get pretty weird, too: around 5% of Brits in a recent survey said they’d force relatives to spend a night in their haunted mansion before they could inherit.
  • Keeping all the beneficiaries informed about what’s going on*. The executor will need to keep estate accounts and make them available to beneficiaries during and after the estate administration process.

NB: Items marked with a * can only be done by the executor of the will or their representative.

All this can take up a lot of time and energy, and the executor is also liable if any mistakes are made – which is why many executors choose to ask an estate administration (or ‘probate’) service to take care of it on their behalf.


Can you opt out of being an executor of a will?

If you’ve been chosen as an executor of an estate and you’re not able to do it, you can pass it on to another co-executor, if one has been named, or ask a professional estate administration service to take it on (find out about costs here). If neither option is suitable, the beneficiaries of the will can apply to settle the estate.


Are you the executor of a will? We can help

If you need support with carrying out the duties of an executor, Beyond offers a range of fixed-price probate services. What you’ll see on the initial quote is what you pay. You’ll be assigned a dedicated representative who will keep you up-to-date throughout the process.

Mistakes made when settling a will can be costly, so being an executor of a will can be intensely stressful. If you choose our full service, Beyond will take on all risk, protecting you and your family, and take care of everything – not just the paperwork.

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

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