What is an executor?

An executor is the legal term referring to a person, named in a will, who is entrusted with the responsibility of carrying out the terms of the will. The executor is charged with protecting the estate until all debts and taxes have been paid and ensuring what is left is distributed to the beneficiaries.

Executors must carry out their duties with a high degree of impartiality, diligence and honesty. This is a legal concept known as fiduciary duty and they must always bear this in mind when administering the deceased’s estate.

Generally speaking an executor must carry out the following duties :

  • contact all organisations in order to gather assets and pay debts on the estate;
  • determine who inherits property and contact/trace the beneficiaries;
  • identify and deal with any potential claims against the estate;
  • protect property until the estate is settled;
  • decide whether or not a grant of representation is required;
  • attending court to apply for a grant of representation (if a solicitor is instructed it is unnecessary for you to attend court);
  • set up an estate bank account;
  • collect the estate assets;
  • pay all debts and taxes;
  • distribute to beneficiaries;

Sounds pretty straight forward? In some cases it is but in many others it can be an onerous responsibility. The executor can be held personally responsible for any loss to the estate resulting from a breach of duty, even if the mistake was made in good faith. Failure to pay the correct amount of tax for example or distributing the estate to the wrong beneficiary can lead to disgruntled beneficiaries seeking legal action against the executor.

Whilst appointing a professional, such as a solicitor, as the executor of your will is not compulsory it is recommended if your estate is sizeable and/or complex. A professional executor will provide you (and your family) with the peace of mind that your estate will be administered in a diligent and professional manner. If, however, your estate is small and/or straightforward or if you prefer a family member or beneficiary to be appointed then they will have the option of engaging a solicitor if they later require assistance.

For anything further, one of our specialists would be delighted to meet you either in our office or in your own home to talk through your requirements and answer any questions. Please contact us at any time.