Executor of a will: what do they do?

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Executor of a will: what do they do?

It’s an executor’s job to follow up the instructions someone leaves in their will. So they make sure their money, property and things (their ‘estate’) go to the people they choose. Executors are also responsible for other things like valuing the estate, sorting out inheritance tax and wrapping up the dead person’s financial affairs.

You’ll choose an executor when you make your will. Most people choose one or two, but you can have up to four. Anyone who’s over 18 can do it. And it’s fine if you’ve left them something as well (called being a ‘beneficiary’) – in fact that’s quite common.

Being an executor can involve a lot of work, so make sure you choose someone you trust – it’ll be up to them to carry out your wishes and solve any problems that come up (like disagreements between family members). There’s also a lot of paperwork and admin involved. And because executors can be financially responsible for any mistakes they make or anything they forget to do, it’s really important they get this stuff right.

Duties of an executor: the to-do list

Here are some of the things an executor will need to do.

  • Apply for probate

    Applying for the legal right to deal with someone’s estate is called ‘applying for a grant of probate’ (or ‘letters of administration’ if the person didn’t leave a will). Basically, this means an executor can deal with banks, utility companies, HMRC and so on, on behalf of the estate.

    When the executor applies for the grant of probate they’ll have to show they’ve paid any inheritance tax that’s due (or that they don’t need to pay any). There’s more on this later.

  • Tell people about the death

    It’s up to the executor to tell any companies the person had a relationship with that they’ve died. So that’s organisations like energy companies, banks and building societies, HMRC, the Department for Work and Pensions, and so on.

  • Value the estate

    The executor works out what the estate’s worth. So they’ll need to make sure they have details of all the person’s assets, property or bank accounts, as well as any money they owe like mortgages, credit cards and loans. Missing any of these now can cause problems further down the line.

  • Pay tax

    Once they’ve worked out exactly what the estate’s worth, the executor will need to check if any inheritance tax is due, and how much. This can be complicated – they’ll need to bear in mind things like tax-free allowances, exemptions, and so on.

    When they’ve done that, they’ll need to get the right forms from HMRC and fill them in. They might also need to fill in income tax forms for the estate, and pay other taxes (like capital gains tax on any investments).

  • Share out the estate and create estate accounts

    It’s the executor’s job to share out the estate to the people named in the will.

    Then, once everything’s sorted, they’ll also need to put together a document showing the estate accounts. This is a record of all the financial transactions that have happened since the person died. It also includes the final total of assets (including investments), debts, fees and admin expenses, and how the money that’s left has been distributed. There aren’t any particular rules for how to format estate accounts. But they usually include a summary of the terms of the will (or rules of intestacy if there isn’t a will).

How long does being an executor take?

Unfortunately there’s no easy answer to this – it depends on how big or complicated the estate is, and if you’ve got any other executors helping out. But it could take up to a year to get everything sorted, or longer if it’s particularly knotty.

If you die without making a will

The rules of intestacy will decide who takes on the executor role (called an ‘administrator’ when there’s no will), as well as who gets what.

I’ve been asked to be an executor. Do I have to say yes?

No – there’s no law that says you have to take on the job. You can sign a document called ‘Renunciation’ to resign from the role, but only if you haven’t already started work on the estate.

You can also hire a probate solicitor or specialist to deal with the legal, tax and admin jobs for you. This might be a good idea if the estate’s worth a lot of money or is really complicated.

If you don’t have anyone who can be an executor

There’s a government official called the public trustee who can take on the executor role if you don’t have anyone you can ask. Or if you’re leaving everything in your will to one person who can’t be an executor themselves (for example, if they’re a child), the public trustee will step in.

In a nutshell

Executors are responsible for following up on the instructions someone leaves in their will. That means they’ll make sure the estate goes to the right people, pay any bills or debts the person left behind, sort out taxes and wrap up their financial affairs.

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