What You Really Need to Know About Being an Executor

The role of executor is something that many people agree to take on for a friend or loved one without fully understanding what the job entails. However, administering even the simplest estate can be an extremely demanding and stressful task, particularly when you’re grieving. It also carries some significant legal and financial responsibilities. Get things wrong, even unintentionally, and any executor could potentially find themselves at risk of legal action or on the hook to pay substantial penalties.

What does an executor have responsibility for?

If you’ve been named as an executor in someone’s will (either alone or with others) you have responsibility for sorting out the person’s financial and legal affairs when then pass away. This will involve making an application to the Probate registry for a Grant of Probate (where necessary) which will give you the legal authority to deal with the deceased’s estate. Once probate has been granted, you can get on with the challenge of sorting out the person’s estate.

The amount of work involved largely depends upon the size and complexity of the person’s estate, but will involve tasks like:

  • Collecting important financial and legal information and documents  - e.g. house deeds, birth, marriage and death certificates, National Insurance number, bank documents, share certificates etc.
  • The identification, correct valuation and distribution or sale of all their assets - e.g. their property, business, car, jewellery, possessions, digital assets etc.
  • Locating beneficiaries and keeping them informed of progress.
  • Keeping detailed accounts for the estate.
  • Identifying debts and paying creditors.
  • Calculating any tax owed (Inheritance, Capital Gains, Income tax) and informing HMRC.
  • Closing accounts, cancelling utilities and informing other relevant organisations of the person’s death.

It’s easy to see why the role of executor can be a considerable challenge. Anyone making their will needs to think about whether the person, or people, they choose will be up to the task. And while it may be flattering to be trusted with the role, it’s also important for executors to think very carefully before accepting.

What common problems do executors face?

From family disputes to problems with the HMRC, there are some common issues that executors may experience.

Making mistakes due to inexperience: the potential for making mistakes is huge if you’re not used to dealing with estate administration tasks. The problem here is, that any mistakes, even inadvertent, could get you in serious legal and financial trouble. Inaccurate asset valuations, tax calculation errors, distributing the estate too soon or failing to pay off debts are common mistakes made by executors. If you under value the Inheritance Tax liability, for example, you can be held personally financially liable by HMRC. So, if you’re struggling to get things right, get professional help.

Not keeping accurate accounts: you need to keep extremely detailed accounts relating to the administration of the estate. Any discrepancies or omissions in the financial records could prove very problematic for you should the beneficiaries ever challenge your handling of the estate. 

Difficulty working with other executors: where there are several executors (often siblings managing the estate of a parent) disagreements can arise. Arguments between executors can seriously delay the estate administration process and sometimes lead to a full-blown inheritance disputes, so it’s always worth trying to settle things with the help of a professional rather than letting the situation escalate. If the executors are also beneficiaries, the issue of a conflict of interest also arises to further complicate matters.

Disagreements with beneficiaries: again, failing to see eye-to-eye with beneficiaries can complicate the entire process and be very stressful for all parties. While having an executor removed is not a particularly common occurrence, beneficiaries can apply to the courts for this if they can prove an executor is not acting in the best interests of the estate.

Can I get out of being an executor after the person dies, even if I’m named in the will?

Yes, you can relinquish the role, but you must do so before you carry out any estate administration tasks. You can do this by filling out form PA15. If the responsibility of being an executor isn’t something you feel you can handle, seeking professional help is a sensible option.

At Rowberry Morris, we’ve been advising clients across the Thames Valley on estate administration for over 60 years. We understand how hard it can be to deal with complex paperwork at what is already an emotional and stressful time. With us, you’ll have an experienced solicitor to support you when you need it.

If you’d like expert guidance to navigate the estate administration process or would like to name us as professional executors when drafting your will, we’re here to provide you with outstanding and compassionate legal services.

To talk to our friendly team, contact your nearest Rowberry Morris office.

  • Reading: 01189 585 611
  • Richmond: 01784 457 655
  • Staines: 01784 457 655
  • Tadley: 01189 812 992

The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.