What is an executor and what do they do?

Start Point Law write the Legal Corner in the Post this edition focusing on an Executor’s duties

The Post, Legal Corner, December 2018

What is an Executor?

Have you been appointed as an executor? Where do you start? We help you to understand an executor’s duties.

Lets start as the beginning – what is an executor and what do they do? The legal definition of an Executor is “a person appointed to deal with someone’s financial and administrative affairs after they die”.  An executor is appointed in a Last Will and Testament.  

Step 1 – Register the death

You must register the death within five days at a register office unless the death has been referred to the coroner. You need to take the medical cause of death certificate from the doctor or hospital and a number of documents relating to the individual including their birth certificate, NHS certificate, passport and proof of address.

Step 2 – Locate the Will and secure property and assets

The Will may include instructions about how the deceased wanted their funeral to be conducted. You should collect together any important papers that may help you identify the deceased’s assets and liabilities.    

Step 3 – Arrange the funeral

There are many different kinds of funeral and it is up to you to find the most appropriate format. Don’t be afraid to speak to more than one funeral director and compare detailed costs, which can vary considerably. The deceased’s assets can be used to pay funeral expenses, although they may have to be reclaimed when you can access funds.

Step 4 – Administering an estate

After someone dies their affairs need to be settled, this is called estate administration. It includes dealing with all their assets, property, shares and investments and personal possessions, paying any debts and taxes including Inheritance Tax and Income Tax and transferring ownership of their remaining assets to the beneficiaries of the estate.

This may include:

• Closing bank accounts and paying any debts, including credit cards
• Dealing with shares and investments
• Dealing with Inheritance Tax and Income Tax forms
• Continuity of buildings insurance until sale or transfer
• Settling and closing utility and other accounts
• Selling or transferring property and assets
• Locating beneficiaries
• Distributing funds to beneficiaries
• Rehoming pets
• Redirecting mail

Step 5 – Grant of Probate

A Grant of Probate is a certificate issued by the Probate Registry when the Will has been ‘proved’, this means it is authorised by the court as ‘the last Will and testament’ of the deceased. If the estate is low value, or if the assets within it are held jointly Probate is typically not required.  

Estate administration can be time consuming and a lack of familiarity with the process and the technicalities can lead to delays in the distribution of assets.

If you undertake the work yourself, you will be personally liable for any mistakes made during the process, such as errors in completing tax returns and legal paperwork. You may also find yourself at the centre of any disagreements between relatives and friends about what happens to particular assets.

For these reasons, many people decide to appoint a specialist to handle the estate administration and to take responsibility for the accuracy and efficiency of the entire process.