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Executors and Administrators

An executor or administrator will carry out the final wishes specified in your Will (or if you die intestate, distribute your estate according to the rules of intestacy).

An executor is an individual who was named in the Will to perform these duties – but if there were no executors named, someone else must take on the role of administrator. The processes involved in being an executor or an administrator are largely the same – however, there are some differences in the terminology used.

The difference between executors and administrators

If you have been named as an executor in the Will, it is almost guaranteed that you will need to obtain the Grant of Probate before you can carry out the main duties.

The Grant of Probate will give you the authority to gain access to the deceased’s bank accounts and other assets. Banks will be reluctant to give you access to any accounts without the Grant of Probate unless there are limited funds in the account.

An administrator will take care of the estate if there is no Will, or no named executor. The administrator will need to get the Letters of Administration, which will give them the same powers as the Grant of Probate. Executors and administrators can also be known as the representatives of the estate.

Executor and administrator duties

To distribute the estate, the representative will need to take care of various administrative and tax-related issues. Here is a break-down of some of the main duties you could face.

Legal duties

  • Checking the validity of the Will
  • Applying for a Grant of Representation
  • Identifying and managing claims against the estate
  • Dealing with any requests from beneficiaries to modify their share of the estate (they can refuse or may be able to alter it)
  • Setting up and managing trusts

Tax duties

  • Calculating the amount of inheritance tax due, if any
  • Completing Inheritance Tax (IHT) forms (necessary even if the estate is exempt)
  • Obtaining confirmation from HM Revenue and Customs that the IHT payment has been received, or that no IHT is to be paid
  • Effecting any corrections to the IHT amount, which may arise as assets change in value in the time it takes to complete the administration of the estate
  • Preparing the Income Tax return from 6th April until day of death, along with any other year's taxes still outstanding, and paying these taxes
  • Paying any Capital Gains Tax due
  • Safeguarding any documents required to pass on unused inheritance tax allowance to the surviving spouse, if there is one

Administrative duties

  • Ascertaining all the assets and liabilities of the estate
  • Locating unidentified assets and missing beneficiaries
  • Selling or transferring any property should it be required
  • Transferring any jointly held assets to the survivor
  • Distributing the estate to the beneficiaries
  • Establishing trusts to safeguard the inheritance of any beneficiaries under the age of 18

You can read more about these responsibilities in our sections on Probate and What to do when a loved one dies.

Depending on the circumstances of the deceased and the size and complexity of their estate, acting as an executor or administrator can be a very complex process to manage. It can take months, and often years, before everything is taken care of and the estate can be properly distributed.

This is one of the reasons why it can be more beneficial in the long-term to hire a solicitor to take care of probate or the administration of the estate, sparing you the stress of dealing with the more complicated aspects of the process, and reducing the risk of any mistakes being made.

Appointing an Executor

You have a number of options as to who should execute your Will – it could be a family member, a friend, or a professional such as a solicitor or accountant. You cannot choose one of the witnesses to your Will to act as an executor, but you can choose them as a beneficiary instead.

When deciding who should be the executor(s) of your Will, you should consider who would be the most capable in terms of dealing with probate and its many complicated matters. For example, if a member of your family is known for not being very good with paperwork or dealing with money matters, they might not be the best person to execute your Will.

You should also consider what effect your appointment will have on your family members once you are gone. Appointing a close family member might seem like a good idea, however they might find it difficult to deal with probate while they are grieving over your death.

Choosing someone who does not benefit from the Will can be a more preferable option, as they are more likely to handle the estate neutrally. However, you will be asking someone to give up a great deal of their time, which may seem like a huge request when they won’t benefit from your Will in the end.

Alternatively, you could name a solicitor, accountant or bank as an executor. Having a professional execute the estate will ease the burden of probate on your other executors, or remove it entirely. It will also guarantee a more efficient and professional service, and the safety net of insurance if something should go wrong.

Of course, enlisting a solicitor, accountant or bank to execute your estate will come with added expense. You may be able to reach an agreement and stipulate how much this will be in your Will (for example paying a solicitor a percentage of your estate for executing your Will).

You can name multiple executors in your Will, allowing them to divide the tasks between themselves. If you do this, you should bear in mind that your executors will have to work together, which could cause problems if you pick two members of your family who do not get on very well. Forcing them to work together during a difficult time could inflame tensions further between them.

Whoever you decide to name as your executor or executors, you should let them know in advance and discuss it with them before you formally establish this in your Will. Naming an individual to execute your Will would prove pointless if it turns out they do not want to do it.

You can read more advice about putting together a Will in our Making a Will section.

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