Free Guide: What does an Executor do? Duties of Executors

Will: What does an Executor Do?

An executor of a Will is the person or people who are responsible for sorting out a person’s financial affairs after they have died. Strictly, they are only an executor if they were appointed in the Last Will of the person who has died. The term “personal representative” is a wider term identifying executors in the wider sense. So what are the duties of an executor of a Will in England and Wales? We have borrowed this video which may help:

duties of executors
What does an Executor do?

Essentially, the duties of executors of a Will are to sort everything out immediately after the death, and once they had done so, usually by obtaining probate if it is required, they hand over to the trustees Usually actually the same people – it is an extension of the role of the executor in most cases – if there is a long term job managing a property trust or a trust for children etc.

The trustees will need wide powers in relation to these funds, including the power to advance money for the maintenance or education of a beneficiary and the power to invest. The most commonly used set of powers are called the STEP provisions which enable all the necessary powers for the executors of the Will to perform their duties without adding several more pages to the actual document. The STEP provisions can be added with a brief sentence.

A Trustee is a person who is usually your Executor and who holds your property on behalf of the beneficiaries while your estate is being administered. Frequently, Trustees are needed to hold your estate for the benefit of infant children while they are under the age of eighteen, so it can be a long-term job.

Duties of Executors: what does an executor do?

An executor (or more usually, executors) is appointed in a will to administer the estate after the death. It is usual, and sensible, to seek the agreement of the executor before the appointment is made. After the death, the executors’ duties are defined in what is called ‘the executor’s oath.’ The duties are in general:

“To collect, get in, and administer according to law the estate of the deceased” in accordance with the terms of the will.

Often, executors of Wills make arrangements for the funeral, and when doing so, make themselves personally liable for the funeral account. If they do this they are entitled to be repaid by the estate. (Estate = assets of the deceased).

The extent to which an executor carries out his duties personally varies very widely. In some estates, there is very little to do beyond the closure and distribution of one or two building society accounts. Other estates can require substantially more work, typically over 6 to 12 months, but sometimes for many years.

The Duties of an Executor of a Will can be Delegated.

The executor may choose to ask a firm of solicitors to carry out some or most of the work, or, indeed, if a firm of solicitors is so instructed, to agree between them who will do which tasks. Alternatively, they can ask The Probate Department (brokers) Ltd to find a firm to act and probably save 30 to 90% of the cost – depending on whether the family executors want to help or not. The executor can choose to delegate almost all the work to a probate professional or a solicitor, or to do the entire job him or herself, or to make any other arrangement in between.

At a minimum, however, the executor of a Will should expect to be involved in a certain amount of correspondence and signing of documents. It would be usual also for the executor to do much of the initial work of locating and identifying assets in the estate and also where there are gifts of particular items to arrange for the distribution of these items.

Whatever happens, an executor is entitled to have his proper expenses paid out of the estate, so the task should not normally be a financial burden. But only professional executors can be paid for their time, unless the Will says otherwise. Executors taking more than essential expenses can end up in Court – but they should not be out of pocket. One example of going too far was an executor who bought a car at the expense of the estate to make travelling to the deceaseds’ home easier.

Where people do go wrong from time to time, is in underestimating the need to comply precisely with several of the law’s requirements. For example, it is common, but quite wrong, for executors to distribute items from the estate to family members but not in accordance with the terms of the will. ‘He always said I could have the clock.’ may be true, but if it isn’t what was said in the will, or memorandum of wishes, or written specifically elsewhere and which is mentioned in the will, it is technically incorrect for the executor of a Will to give the clock.

Last, it is perhaps worth dispelling the myth that the duties of executors include the “reading of the will”, where the executor of the Will, solicitor, and beneficiaries gather together amid great suspense, and simmering acrimony, to reveal the contents of the Will. This happens very rarely, if at all, except in films!

A question frequently asked is whether an executor of a Will can also be a beneficiary. The answer is yes, provided the Will contains the appropriate wording. However executors, beneficiaries, or the spouses of executors, beneficiaries, MUST not witness Wills as gifts to witnesses or their spouses will not be allowed to stand, Save for exceptional cases.

Alternative executors and trustees may be needed to look after funds held in trust for children until the date specified in the Will or the child’s eighteenth birthday. It is expected the trustees will need various powers in relation to these funds, including the power to advance money for maintenance or education of a beneficiary and power to invest.

It is essential that you give to your executors all of the powers possible (available in law) to enable them to administer your estate properly. If your executor is also a Trustee, you need, for example, to give your executor special powers to invest cash, insure property and manage money for any infants. (children under 18) – see the STEP provisions above.

Should I appoint professional executors?

There are certainly cases where the appointment of professionals is a good idea, and often sorting out a simple estate is straightforward, especially with some advance planning. But if there are family jealousies, blended families, difficult relationships, substantial assets, business or other complications then the professional executor can be independent and take the flak, rather than the family executors being accused of being dishonest. Many families are irretrievably split by suspicions of the role of executor being used for personal gain.

You may appoint a professional company or a member of your family or both to be the Executors of a Will.   Before deciding to appoint a professional company or solicitor to be your Executor you should consider any charges which are likely to be made. You should make enquiries as to the amount of any charge before you decide to make a professional appointment of an Executor.  We are happy to advise at any stage.

If you choose a member of your family to be an Executor please remember that the Executor may need to instruct professionals in any event, for example via us, solicitors, accountants, or stockbrokers in some cases and, if this is the case, you will need to ensure that your last Will does provide (legally) for your Executors to obtain monies from your estate to pay for any expert advice that may be needed.

What does an Executor do? Duties of Executors

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