When a person makes a Will, to ensure that their money, possessions and property are distributed according to their wishes and to avoid family disputes they need to elect an executor.
What you need to understand if you agree to be a Will or Trust executor.
If you are asked to be an executor you will be legally responsible for managing the deceased person’s financial and personal affairs until the probate or trust process is completed and assets distributed. It is therefore very important that you understand your responsibilities, whether you will be sole or joint executor and that, when the time comes, you will be available and capable of acting on the deceased’s behalf.
Here’s what you need to know if you agree to be the named executor of a Last Will and Testament or Trust.
- 1. You may need to arrange the funeral.
As an executor dealing with the deceased’s estate you may be required to arrange the funeral if their closest living relative (or someone acting on their behalf) are unable to make the arrangements. However, it is important to be aware that the person who arranges the funeral is responsible for paying for it. The costs can usually be recovered from the deceased’s estate, therefore before committing to being an executor it is important to consider your own financial situation and their financial provisions carefully.
- 2. You will need to obtain multiple copies of the death certificate.
As the executor you will be required, where applicable, to notify the deceased’s bank, building society, mortgage provider, life insurer, pension provider and the relevant HMRC department about the death. They will all require a copy of the death certificate.If you are organising the funeral the funeral home will require a copy of the death certificate.
- 3. You will need a copy of the Will or Trust.
A copy of the Will or Trust documents are required to settle the estate. A Will is required for probate and should be filed with the probate court within a month after the death. Probate can be avoided if a Trust has been set up. It is therefore very important to ensure you’re kept informed of any updates and you have the latest copy of their Will or Trust.
- 4. You should seek professional advice to process and administer the estate.
Depending on the complexity of the estate and whether the deceased arranged a Will or Trust you may need to get advice from professionals with the expertise to help you avoid mistakes and prevent delays to processing the estate.A solicitor can provide advice on the legal process, help you complete the correct forms and facilitate any questions or issues arising from beneficiaries. The other experts you may need to approach are tax professionals who can help with tax returns, inheritance tax, investments and business accounts and appraisers if advice is required for valuables and antiques.
- 5. You will need to prove you have legal authority.
When an estate goes through probate, to prove you have legal authority to manage the estate on behalf of the deceased, you will need a Letter of Testamentary, also know as a Letter of Administration or Letter of Representation. This certified document, which can be obtained from the probate court, means that you are authorised to open or close financial accounts, handle tax matters, manage the distribution of assets to beneficiaries and pay bills etc.
- 6. You will need to establish and safeguard the assets.
Ideally the deceased will have made a record of all their assets and left instructions and a list of assets and relevant documents with the executor, a solicitor or in a safety deposit box. These should include the Will or Trust and paperwork relating to investment and bank accounts, funeral plans, property, business interests, including any online account login details if relevant, and any documents that verify antique values.The executor is also responsible for safeguarding the assets and not allow beneficiaries to remove valuables until probate has completed and bills are settled.
- 7. You will need to manage payments of bills and taxes.
The deceased person’s estate is responsible for the payment of any outstanding debts, but it is the executor who manages payment of bills and taxes.You will need to first calculate the value of the assets and check that these will cover any debts. A shortfall will not be the responsibility of the executor or beneficiaries to pay and a probate judge can prioritise payments to creditors.
- 8. You will need to avoid mistakes that you could be liable for.
An executor can be personally liable if essential steps in the process are missed and mistakes are made. This is why seeking professional guidance can help and a solicitor can help resolve any issues arising from beneficiary disputes.Good recordkeeping of bills, receipts and correspondence will help you stay organised and avoid being overwhelmed.