Choosing an executor

Your executors will, ultimately, be liable for any mistakes made in the administration of your estate. They may also be held personally and financially liable for any loss occurring as a result of a breach of their duty. You should therefore consider carefully who you would like to act as the executors of your will, and consult with them before appointing them. You may be surprised but many people appoint executors without asking them first!

The role of an executor can be quite onerous, and even if the estate is straightforward it is a serious responsibility. It is a good idea to make sure they understand what is expected of them. See Duties of an executor for more information.

How many executors?

Though you may appoint as many executors as you like, no more than four may take out the grant of probate. Appointing a large number of executors may also complicate the administration of your estate.

Most people will normally choose one or two executors in their will. Naming only one executor may be appropriate if you are leaving your entire estate to your spouse, or where your estate is straightforward, or you are choosing a professional executor. 

However, if the provisions of your will are such that there is likely to be an ongoing trust when you die, you should consider appointing at least two executors. This may be the case if your children are under 18, or if you have made provision for some other sort of trust in your will.

Appointing at least two executors reduces the problems arising in the event that one is unwilling or unable to act when the time comes.

Named individuals

You may choose to name one or more individuals as executors under your will. You should discuss your desire to do so and the various responsibilities the role brings with them beforehand. 

If you do not name any executors in your will, or if those you name as executors do not wish to take on the role, then one or more of the beneficiaries of your will may apply to administer your estate. 

Executors usually become the trustees of any trusts created by your will. If you have children who are under 18 or have not reached the age you specify for them to inherit, then any property you leave them will be held in trust for them until they reach that age. If they are under 18, and you have appointed guardians, then it is a good idea to choose different people as executors.

Substitute executors

A substitute executor is one who will take the place of a named executor if they are unwilling or unable to act. Though you are under no obligation to do so, you should consider appointing one or more substitute executors under your will. This will allow you to retain greater control over who will administer your estate once you die. A substitute executor may, for example, be another named individual or may be a professional executor such as a law firm.

Using professionals as executors

Being an executor brings with it a variety of duties and responsibilities. Depending on the nature of your estate, such as its size and complexity, the individuals you choose to name as your executors might find the role to be onerous and, at times, complicated. This may be exacerbated if they have other significant demands on their time and are also trying to come to terms with the recent loss of a loved one. 

To avoid these problems, you may like to consider appointing professionals to administer your estate on their behalf, such as a firm of solicitors or other probate professionals. They could either act on their own or in conjunction with named family members and/or friends.

If you do decide to name a professional as an executor, you should take care when choosing exactly who you would like to take on the position. Careful consideration can result in a professional executor who:

  • has the relevant expertise;
  • is diligent in their duties; and
  • will act alongside, and be considerate of, any other individuals you may have also named as your executors.

Of course, professionals make a charge for their work, whether it is a bill for their time when the administration has been completed, or a percentage of the total value of the estate. Depending on the size and complexity of your estate, the final fee will vary. It is important to make sure you understand fully how the professional you are considering appointing will charge before you commit yourself.

Professional executors are also likely to be able to administer the estate quickly and deal with any complicated legal, tax or property issues. This may be particularly relevant if your estate is complex. Talk to us using our pop-up chat service about special deals offered by our recommended firms of solicitors.

Trust corporations

Sometimes, firms providing professional executor services do so through a trust corporation. This is a separate entity from the firm itself, but it makes no difference to the service provided. The reason for doing so is to provide continuity, so that they are not reliant on named partners to act as executors, for example after they have left the firm. The individuals responsible for carrying out the duties of the corporation would usually be whoever are the senior members of the firm at the time.

Family members as executors

You may also name a relative as an executor, such as your child (if they are over 18), adult grandchild, niece, nephew etc. Before choosing which family member to appoint, you should discuss with them whether they would be comfortable with taking on the role and the responsibilities it brings with it.  Such discussion will help to avoid future complications. It is also important to bear in mind that completing probate (something your executors will be expected to participate in) can be very time-consuming, and to factor this in when making your choice. 

It is also worth thinking carefully before choosing your husband, wife, or partner as your executor. As your death will be a difficult and upsetting event for them to experience, choosing someone else as an executor, or at least to assist them, may help to reduce their administrative burden at a difficult time.