Being an Executor: a tough job at a tougher time.
When a loved one or close friend dies they will leave a load of papers to be sorted out and lots of organising to do. And those responsible have to cope with the loss, the paperwork, the family tensions (which often need extremely careful management if the family is to stay together) and, of course, the probate work.
Waiting for the medical certificate, then registering the death and arranging a funeral is are the first steps. Most people start the probate process after the funeral, though of course probate is not always required – ask for our free fact sheet.
If probate is required, the first step is to find the Last Will and Testament – and we mean the LAST one, as people often make many Wills and not enough people take advantage of the excellent facilities of Will Custodian or the more basic ones of the Principal Probate Registry. So the whereabouts of the LAST Will is often the most crucial mystery which has to be solved. No one can be sure that they ARE the appointed Executor until the correct Last Will has been found. And that is assuming that no one wants to dispute the Will, which is becoming increasingly common.
Many people accidentally take on the responsibility of being an executor by taking actions which are the responsibility of the executor – and they find themselves lumbered with the whole task with all the responsibilities and potential liabilities that the job of executor entails.
The next step is to start gathering all the paperwork, discovering all the assets and liabilities before completing the Tax and Probate forms. Any Inheritance Tax has to be agreed and usually paid before you can even send in your request for a Grant of Probate to the Probate Registry.
Probate can be a long frustrating process, at an already distressing time. Even more irritating, the executor can get 95% of the assets sorted and then find that one or two fairly small assets cannot be released without obtaining a grant of probate – by which time the paperwork required may have been binned as being unnecessary!
One lesson everyone should remember as an executor is not to throw things away too soon – it can be a pain to get it all back again, and expensive too. You will have enough trouble finding important papers that the deceased person has thrown away without making matters worse.
The executor is usually a close family member and typically a beneficiary of the will, such as a husband, wife, child or close friend. There can be up to four executors, which can be a total nightmare if they don’t work well together. And watch out for professionals acting as joint executors – just bear in mind that the professionals have to be certain everything is done properly as their reputation is at stake. So any work done by family executors is likely to be double-checked by the professionals.
You may be flattered if somebody asks you to be the Executor of their Last Will – but think twice before accepting unless you are authorised to get professional help (preferably via us to check for value and service!) if you need it.
There is a vast difference between a professional appointed in the Last Will (who is totally in charge) and one appointed by the family executor – who can be managed or even fired by the family executor, unlike the professional appointed in the Last Will. If you accept the appointment, please do make sure you fully understand your responsibilities first.
And for some reason, people seem to forget that the responsibilities of an executor are a little heavy for a person who is likely to by 85 when their work starts! Will Custodians Peace of Mind Service reminds you to consider such issues every year, along with changes in tax, the law and family circumstances.
If there is no valid Last Will, then the next of kin is the first in line to be executor, after that it gets a little more complex.
What does being an executor mean you have to do?
1) Gather details of all assets owned by the person who has died: property, savings accounts, investments, values of cars, collections, antiques, business assets, home contents, shares, insurances which payout into the estate plus anything else of value. Gifts over of £250 to any individual made in the previous 7 to 14 years depending on circumstances will need to be reviewed if there is any possibility of Inheritance Tax being payable. Gifts made into trusts in the previous 7 years also require special consideration as they may make a considerable difference to the Inheritance Tax situation. Remember, a careless executor could end up footing the Tax bill personally.
2) Discover all the liabilities such as mortgages and other debts. Plus tax liabilities (not including Inheritance Tax at this stage.)
3) Work out how much the estate is worth to see if Inheritance Tax is payable.
4) Complete the relevant forms.
5) Pay Inheritance Tax where relevant.
6) Submit the relevant tax and probate forms along with the Will and death certificate.
7) Attend the Probate Registry when requested to answer any questions and swear the oath.
8) Open an executors bank account so as not to get into trouble mixing your money with money belonging to the estate of the deceased. Executors can easily be accused of mishandling assets or money for their own ends.
9) Wait for the Grant of Probate to arrive then send it off to each of the asset holders in turn.
10) Bank the proceeds, deal with any property then
11) Pay the creditors and expenses (a lay executor can recover their expenses but nothing for the time.)
12) Then pay or transfer assets to the relevant beneficiaries. Get it wrong and you may well end up refunding the cash personally, so be careful.
13) Watch out for any beneficiaries or creditors you may have missed,, plus people who may decide to dispute the Will.
The executor’s responsibilities
Probate a major responsibility. You must administer the estate quickly and fairly, as well as being accountable for your actions as well as being financially liable for any mistakes. If you pay some the estate to the wrong person, got the percentages wrong or missed someone, then it is your problem to put it right from your own pocket.
With money at stake, things can become unpleasant
Getting help with being an Executor.
There are lots of places you can go if you and the other executors decide you need help to administer the estate, but there are some things you should bear in mind.
Think twice before appointing a solicitor, will writer or bank to carry out probate on your behalf. Some can charge fees of between 2% and 5% of the value of the estate. On an estate worth £300,000 this could be anything up to £15,000, with VAT on top. We don’t charge exorbitant fees like these.
For simple estates, we could recommend a low-cost support service where you gather the necessary information and they help check for pitfalls and to put all the forms together for you are applying for the Grant of probate on yourself behalf. For more complex estate, you might want a professional to do everything – but leave you in charge.
But do feel free to ask for our Guide to Probate – being better informed always helps in making wise choice.