When a loved one dies: the role of an executor

Being an executor can be quite stressful. It’s natural to feel humble and appreciated if you’re asked by a family member or friend to be their executor, and sort out their Will.
However, it’s only after they are gone that the real nightmare can start.
If you’re put in that position – and in the words of the National Lottery, ‘it could be you’ – is it something you feel comfortable with?

What is an executor?

This is someone you’ll appoint when you come to write your Will. It’s always recommended that you appoint a family member and when you die, they will be legally responsible for the winding up of your estate.
It’s quite a time consuming business – and is also quite stressful – but the reason why it’s good practice to appoint a family member is there is no reason why they can’t deal with the probate process.
However, in a lot of cases where family members have been appointed executor, they’ll turn to a specialist firm to do the work for them.

Why can’t I do it myself?

You can. But often people agree to being the executor, believing all they need to do when that person dies is take the Will to a solicitor and they will do the work. This isn’t the case.
When people look into the executor’s role and think about doing the work themselves, they find:

  • It’s very time consuming.
  • It can be quite complex, because it is a legal process that in law they must follow.

A good way to describe an executor’s role is like doing an accounts package. You’ll need to cover two main areas. These are:

1. Identifying the assets of the deceased person

What a lot of people are governed by is what the deceased person has left in the family home. But it’s very important when you’re identifying assets that you cover everything.
For example, if they owned a property, there is a protocol that must be followed. You must get a valuation of the property and we advise getting three valuations. Once done, add the three values together, divide it by three, and that’s a fair valuation.
Then identify all the bank accounts, any premium bonds and investments the deceased person had. But you won’t get any help with this – you’ll need to look yourself.
When people turn to us – having had a go at doing the probate work themselves – we often find that they haven’t looked at whether the deceased person had premium bonds, investments or pensions that might have lump sum payments upon death.

2. Identifying the liabilities of the deceased person

These are outstanding charges – utility bills such as gas, electric, phone and council tax.
Nice and simple, right? But there are other liabilities to identify.

  • From the time and date of a person’s death, have they been overpaid in state or personal pensions?
  • Have they been overpaid in benefits?Any liability that the deceased person has must be shown on the probate application.

The next stage

Once all the assets and liabilities have been identified, a submission to the court can then be made for Grant of Probate. This confirms the authority of the executor to administer the estate of someone who has died, to include tidying up their affairs and distributing their assets to their heirs.
Once the court grants probate, it’s up to the executor to realise all of the deceased person’s assets, such as selling the home, writing to all the institutions that hold money of the deceased person, and collecting those funds.
This money goes into an executor’s account – a bank account opened up in the deceased person’s name. The executor has personal responsibility of the assets going into that account.
They then have to pay off all the deceased person’s debts, including the Inland Revenue, if anything is owed to them.
Only then can the distribution of the remaining money in the executor’s account be paid to the beneficiaries.

Still want to do it yourself? A word of caution

The sting in the tail of a lay person doing the probate work is that ignorance is no excuse of the law.The sting in the tail of a lay person doing the probate work – and they are fully entitled to – is that ignorance is no excuse of the law.
So if an executor winds up somebody’s estate, and they’ve made a mistake – such as not paying a £25,000 tax bill – the Inland Revenue’s view is that the executor personally owes that money.
Panic. The executor will go running to all the beneficiaries for financial help, but they may say, ‘Oh, we’ve spent it all now’. And the executor is lumbered with that bill. A frightening thought.

Keeping with tradition

It’s normal to put a family member as executor when writing your Will, and we recommend appointing two executors.
As a National Paralegal Law Firm, we know that eight out of ten non-professional executors turn to professionals to get the probate work done.
The reason for this is because they specialise in that area of law. They’ve got professional indemnity insurance, so if a mistake has been made, the beneficiaries still get the money.
Let’s face it – if you’ve got a son or a daughter, an aunt or an uncle who is the executor in a Will, they’re not experts in that area of law. This will be the first time they’ve ever had to do this type of legal work.
And at a time of grieving and stress over losing a loved one, people find that they cannot deal with it.

At Wills & Legal Services, we can help with any questions your have about being an executor. Call us on 01885 490380 to book an appointment with one of our specialist Paralegals.

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