The executor of a will is the person who winds up the deceased’s estate. Where possible, they ensure that the deceased’s wishes are respected. The executor does not have to do everything themself. They do, however, take ultimate responsibility for ensuring that everything is done correctly. What’s more, they can be held legally accountable for their actions.
Being named as an executor
It’s important to understand that the fact of being named as an executor does not require you to accept the role of executor. This holds even if you agreed to it previously. If you do not wish to act, you have two options. The first is to appoint someone else to act instead. The second is simply to complete a form of renunciation. In the latter case, an executor or administrator will be appointed using standard rules.
The basic duties of an executor
An executor’s duties start with ensuring that the death is registered and the funeral arranged. If the deceased was receiving any state benefits or private pensions, then you will need to inform the relevant authorities promptly. You’ll also need to contact HMRC and key service providers such as banks and insurers.
If the deceased rented their home, then you should be able to wind up their utility bills immediately. If, however, they owned their home, then the process for dealing with the bills will differ according to what is to happen with it. Typically they will either be transferred or the account will be put on hold and settled when the property is sold.
The bulk of the executor’s work, however, will typically revolve around the winding up of the deceased’s estate. As a rule of thumb, if the deceased’s estate included any property, you will need to apply for probate. If it doesn’t, you can usually act without probate but in accordance with the will.
It is strongly advisable to place a deceased estates notice in The Gazette and in the deceased’s local newspaper. In simple terms, this protects an executor from being held personally liable for any claims made against the deceased’s estate after it has been wound up.
For everyone’s sake, an executor should make all reasonable efforts to contact creditors and settle all liabilities with them. This is, of course, easiest, when the deceased was fully solvent. If the deceased was not fully solvent, then it’s recommended to get legal advice about how to settle liabilities appropriately.
Valuing and dividing the estate
You need to have the estate accurately valued so that you can determine its Inheritance Tax (IHT) liability (if any). When valuing the estate, you need to create an inventory of any assets and find out their realistic selling price on the open market.
You may need to include gifts made within the last 7 years. You should, however, make sure that you are only valuing the deceased’s share of any property. For example, if they had joint ownership of a house, then their estate only contains half the overall value of the house.
Once this has been done, you can proceed to settle any IHT bill and divide the estate. Again, this is easiest if the deceased’s assets cover all the bequests they wish to make. If it doesn’t then it’s best to get legal advice on how to proceed.
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