Duties of an executor
After your death, your executors will be responsible for a number of tasks, including:
- safeguarding your estate;
- notifying people and identifying what’s in your estate;
- dealing with receipts and payments;
- collecting your assets and valuing your estate;
- applying for a grant of probate;
- paying debts, bills, inheritance tax and funeral expenses from your estate; and
- distributing the remainder of your estate.
Safeguarding the estate
One of the first things your executors will need to do is to secure your property and safeguard the value of your assets, as far as is possible. This includes informing any insurance company of your death in order to ensure that cover is maintained.
They will also need to take control of your personal possessions: these can easily become dispersed after a death. Before distributing them, they will need to ensure your personal possessions have been valued and that they are certain about who is entitled to them. Your estate may be made up of a variety of assets other than your personal possessions.
Notifying people and identifying what is in the estate
In order to administer your estate effectively, your executors will need to know exactly what you own and owe at the date of your death. Every asset you own will need to be valued, with some requiring a more accurate valuation than others. For more information on valuing your estate, see Estate value – why it is important and Value of assets, property and personal possessions.
Your executors will need to contact everyone with whom you had financial dealings, sending them your death certificate and asking for information regarding various matters. This will include information about tax. If you are a taxpayer, your tax returns will need to be completed up to the date of your death. Your share of jointly-owned property will form part of your estate and, as such will need to be valued for probate purposes.
Dealing with receipts and payments
It may be necessary for your executor to open an account to deal with receipts and payment, in order to ensure the assets making up your estate remain separate from their own. If you choose to appoint only one executor, and also name them as the sole beneficiary of your estate, a separate account may not be required.
Collecting your assets and valuing your estate
Before your executors can apply for a grant of probate, they must assess the size and complexity of your estate and whether there is any inheritance tax to pay. In order to do this, they will need to collect details of your assets and liabilities. This may just involve bank and building society accounts but it could be more complex if you have any investments, properties or other valuable personal possessions. They will also need to obtain details of any cash gifts you made in the seven years before you died as there may be inheritance tax to pay in respect of these.
Applying for a grant of probate
Probate is the process of proving that your will is valid and then the right for your executors to deal with your assets and estate.
To apply for a grant of probate your executors will need to complete a probate form (Form PA1) and the relevant inheritance tax form (either Form IHT205 or Form IHT400 depending on whether your estate is above or below the inheritance tax threshold of £325,000). In some straightforward situations you can apply for probate online; for further information see the Government’s information page.
Any inheritance tax due on your estate will need to be paid before probate is granted.
The grant of probate will usually then be issued to your executors. This is the legal document that enables them to sell, transfer and distribute assets within your estate.
For more information, see What is probate?
Paying debts, bills, inheritance tax and funeral expenses from your estate
Once your executors have access to the assets making up estate, they will be able to pay off any debts you owe at the date of your death, and expenses incurred since.
Unless your executors are also the beneficiaries of your estate, they will need to take care not to distribute your assets until they can be certain that no more debts will come to light, and that no one will make a claim against the estate. If not, they may be held personally liable. This means that they could, for example, be asked to pay any such debt themselves. Your executors may take action to avoid such an eventuality by placing statutory advertisements and, in respect of claims, by waiting for six months from the date of the grant of probate before distributing the estate.
Distributing the remainder of your estate
Once they have called in all the assets and paid any tax, debts and expenses, your executors can pay any legacies and distribute the remainder of your estate (known as the residue) in accordance with your will. If you have not left a will, or your will is deemed invalid, your estate will be distributed in accordance with the intestacy rules.
The executors should provide the residuary beneficiaries with accounts displaying all the financial details, so that they can see how the estate has been administered. A residuary beneficiary is the recipient of the residue of your estate – not the recipient of any legacies under your estate.
Further information on the intestacy rules can be found in Avoiding intestacy.
Can your executor administer the estate without professional help?
If your executors are organised and have the time, then they may find the administration of a straightforward estate manageable - even if they have little or no experience of probate law.
Your executors carry a significant responsibility and a certain amount of risk. If the value of your estate is considerable, or if your estate is somewhat complex, they might want to consider seeking specialist legal advice. Situations where this is advisable include:
- where there is foreign property in your estate;
- if you are the beneficiary of a trust;
- where there are trusts included in your will;
- if there is the chance that someone may challenge the validity of the will, or make an application for financial provision out of your estate;
- if beneficiaries cannot be found;
- if the value of your estate is insufficient to pay outstanding debt; or
- there is inheritance tax to pay and your executors wish to see how this can be mitigated.