What is an executor?

An executor is someone you appoint in your will to carry out the terms of your will. Sometimes you will hear the term ‘personal representative’ – this includes executors and administrators (who are the people appointed to administer someone’s estate who did not leave a will). 

Your executor, or executors (it is usually sensible to appoint more than one person), will have the legal authority to act on your behalf, once you die, to finalise your affairs and to ensure that your estate is distributed in accordance with your will or the law.

Who can be an executor?

Under your will, you can appoint almost anyone as an executor as long as they are:

  • over 18 years of age; and
  • of sufficient mental capacity.

If you appoint your spouse or civil partner to be an executor, and your marriage or civil partnership subsequently comes to an end (by divorce, annulment, dissolution or by being deemed void), the appointment is automatically revoked. If you die without appointing someone in place of your former spouse or civil partner, and they were your sole executor, the court will appoint a family member or some other suitable person to administer your estate. To avoid this happening, and to ensure that the person you have chosen is responsible for dealing with your estate when you die, you should amend your choice of executors if your marriage or civil partnership ends.  

In addition, none of your executors should be bankrupt. However, this will not act as an automatic bar to their taking on the role of executor. 

Claiming expenses

Unless your executor is performing their role in a legal professional capacity, they cannot charge for their time or services.

They may, however, be able to recover from your estate any reasonable expenses they incur in the course of their duties as your executor. The range of expenses (sometimes referred to as ‘out of pocket’ expenses) that can be recovered is very limited and must be costs which: 

  • would not have arisen were they not acting as your executor; and
  • only cover the executor themselves. 

An example would be travel costs incurred by your executor in the course of their duties; but they could not claim for their spouse making the same journey. 

In contrast, if you appoint a professional (such as a solicitor) as your executor, they will be entitled to a reasonable rate of compensation for the work they carry out. You should ask them what the estimated cost to your estate will be before you appoint them in your will. It is quite usual for them to ask you to sign an agreement that their costs can be paid from your estate when the time comes.

Even if your will does not specifically allow professional executors to be remunerated, they will still be entitled to receive reasonable compensation if this is agreed in writing by all of your non-professional executors. This is regardless of whether the services were capable of being provided by someone with no professional experience.