Executor: tips for being one
If you’re an executor of someone’s will, you’ll deal with their money, property and things (their ‘estate’) when they die. You’ll have lots of legal and admin-type tasks, like sharing out the estate, applying for probate and paying taxes. So it’s vital you stay on top of the paperwork and get help if you need it.
Being an executor can be daunting. So it’ll help to think through the whole process before you get started.
When you’re asked to be an executor
If someone asks you to be an executor of their will, it’s worth having a chat with them about it to work out a few things. It’s not going to be the most fun conversation, but it’ll help you later on. The person might name more than one executor, in case one dies before they do. Again, not a happy thought. But it could also mean you can split the work with someone else.
Here are some of the things you might want to talk about.
Paperwork and account details
Find out where they store their documents (like the will, insurance policies, deeds, and so on) so you know where they are when you need them. It’s also worth getting a list of bank accounts and details of online accounts – as an executor you’ll need to access all of these, right down to their email or Facebook account.
There’s no two ways about it – this might be a tough conversation. But you’ll both want to get the details right, so it’s worth having. Find out what kind of ceremony the person wants (for example, are they religious?), and whether they want to be buried or cremated.
Personal bits and bobs
See if the person has any belongings they want to go to particular people. This might be sentimental bits and pieces that aren’t worth much money, but will mean a lot to one person. Stuff like this can cause arguments further down the line, so it’s a good idea to get something in writing.
Keeping everything up to date
It’s worth revisiting all this once a year or so, or if your friend’s circumstances change (like if they get married or have a child). The more up-to-date everything is, the easier your job will be when the time comes.
After the person dies
Apply for probate (if you need to)
Applying for the legal right to deal with someone’s estate is called ‘applying for probate’. You do this by getting a ‘grant of probate’. Here are the general steps you’ll need to follow to do that:
- value the estate and send the details to HMRC
- apply for probate (you can do this online)
- pay any inheritance tax that’s due
- collect the estate’s assets – so that’s things like money from selling the person’s property
- pay off any debts, like energy bills or a mortgage
- keep a record of how the will splits any property, money or possessions (this is called ‘estate accounts’)
- pass the estate on to the people named in the will (the ‘beneficiaries’).
You might not need to apply for probate if the estate’s small or doesn’t include any property.
Keep up with the paperwork
Being an executor means paperwork. So it’s important that you stay on top of it. Keeping detailed records and being organised will help the whole probate process run smoothly.
As well as distributing the estate to the beneficiaries, some of the things you’re likely to need to do are:
- get a copy of the will and register the death
- sort out the funeral
- tell companies and organisations about the death
- send in tax returns and pay taxes
- transfer or sell property.
Talk to everyone involved
If there are other executors, get in touch with them as soon as you can to work out what you need to do. Make sure you’re all clear on who’s doing what, and when you need to do it.
You should also talk to everyone who’s named in the will. It’s your job to do what’s best for the estate, and being open about what you’re doing will be useful for everyone. This is bound to be an emotional time for them and you, so keeping them up to date with how it’s going, and letting them know about any delays, will help keep things on track.
Get some help
If the estate is complicated (for example, if there are a lot of different assets or beneficiaries) or worth a lot of money, you might want to hire a probate solicitor or specialist to help you. They’ll be able to tell you if you need to apply for probate and do the admin for you.
In a nutshell
Being executor of someone’s will means you’ll be responsible for dealing with their estate when they die. Because you’re likely to have lots of legal and admin-type jobs to do, being well organised and communicating with everyone else involved is a must. And you might want to hire a professional to help you.