What are my duties as executor?

man thinking, using laptop

If you have been informed that you are an executor, then sadly that probably means that a friend or relative has recently died.

That person has named you as the executor in their will, either alone, or with others, to carry out their wishes and to administer their estate. This is all the money and property that they have left behind. You will be required to pool all of their assets, pay any debts and taxes, and distribute the remainder, in accordance with their will.

What should I do next?

You may be required to register the death with the Register’s Office, if the family has not already done so. You will need a death certificate from the doctor or hospital to take to the Register’s Office. You are then in a position to arrange the funeral. Check the will first, in case it includes any funeral instructions, or details of any pre-paid plans. If not, you may wish to involve family members, who will probably have a good idea about their funeral wishes.

Once the funeral has been arranged, you might want to consult a legal advisor, and find out if the deceased had other legal documents or property you were unaware of, and to find what you need to do to obtain a grant of probate.

If the estate is sizeable or complex, you might instruct the advisor to take on the probate paperwork for you; but it’s your job as executor to sign it. The cost of the legal fees will be deducted from the estate, once the legal work has been completed. You may wish to get a couple of estimates before instructing an advisor, to compare prices.

How do I obtain a grant of probate?

If you decide to obtain the grant without the help of a legal advisor, you need to prepare the paperwork first. You will need to obtain the probate application form from the probate registry or online and then check the deceased’s financial records for:

  • Banks and building society accounts
  • Investment portfolios
  • Other sources of income, e.g. from an employer, pensions or benefits
  • Insurance policies, e.g. life, car or medical
  • HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) details
  • Debts, including from credit cards, loans or hire agreements
  • Utilities eg gas, water and electricity, as well as council tax
  • Business contracts and agreements
  • Arrange temporary insurance on any assets such as house and car

You will need to write to each of these organisations with the date of death, enclosing a certified copy of the death certificate, and requesting a date of death balance.

Once they have replied, include all the figures in the probate application form. Send the completed form, together with the death certificates, and the fee, to the local Probate Registry to request the grant of probate.

What about inheritance tax?

The probate application form should calculate whether any inheritance tax is due, and this should be paid as quickly as possible from the available assets. If there is not enough cash available, the probate registry will accept payment following the grant of probate, when you are in a position to close the deceased’s accounts and sell any property.

What do I do with the grant of probate?

When you receive the grant of probate, send an official copy to each organisation requesting them to close the deceased’s accounts, and send the balance to you as executor (you will need to open a temporary account on behalf of the estate).

If there might be unknown creditors that the deceased owed money to, advertise the death in the local paper and the London Gazette to give any creditors or claimants 28 days to get in touch. You have then covered yourself legally, if one pops up at a later date.

When you have accumulated all the money, you can pay the creditors and expenses such as bills, funeral expenses, taxes and probate costs, and any tax due. Next you can pay each beneficiary in accordance with the will instructions, and obtain a receipt from each one.

You will be required to draw up some estate accounts which show the money coming in and out of the estate and obtain a signature to the accounts from each residuary legatee (people receiving the residue of the estate after specific gifts have been paid out).

Finally you can close the bank account, once all payments have cleared. Keep the records safely for 12 years.

Getting help

If, at any point in the process, you need help or advice, you can talk to a qualified advisor, who will be able to talk you through what you need to do.