The role of the executor

What does an executor do?

Making a Will is an important part of later life planning, and most of us would happily agree to become an executor for a partner, family member or close friend.

But what are we actually agreeing to?

An executor is a person appointed to handle someone’s affairs after they have died. They are required to organise assets, settle outstanding debts and pay any taxes due, and distribute the remaining estate according to the terms of the Will.

Every situation is a little different, and the rules can vary in different parts of the UK, but some of the most common tasks an executor performs include:

Registering the death
The registration of the death is necessary to obtain a death certificate, which is required to arrange the burial or cremation as well as deal with any property left by the person who has died. You may need several copies of the certificate to be able to deal with all the organisations that hold the deceased’s assets, from banks to TV Licensing.

Collecting important documents
The most important document is the Will itself; it’s a good idea to make sure the original is kept safe after making copies. Other information that might be required include your National Insurance number and passport, bank and building society details, insurance policies, titles deeds, share certificates, utility bills and vehicle licensing information.

Informing government departments
We deal with a huge range of government departments in our life and they all need to be informed of a death, from HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) to the Driver & Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA). Fortunately, many government departments can be dealt with through the ‘Tell Us Once’ service, which lets you report a death to several government departments with one form.

Arranging the funeral
Check to see if the deceased had a funeral plan in place and, if not, if they expressed any specific wishes for their funeral in their Will. If there is a plan in place, contact the specified funeral director and they will handle the ceremony as planned. If not, you will need to find a funeral director, organise the funeral and pay for it from the estate.

Valuing the estate
The first step in valuation is to prepare a detailed list of the property, money and possessions owned by the deceased and note any tax or debts owed. The value of the estate is calculated by subtracting any money owed on a mortgage, loans or credit cards from the value of the assets.  HMRC recommends having items worth over £500 valued professionally.

Applying for probate
If an estate is valued over £5,000 in England & Wales or £36,000 in Scotland, you will require a grant of probate (known as confirmation in Scotland) before you have the legal right to deal with the estate. The probate process can take six to nine months, and unless the deceased had a pre-paid probate plan, fees can be as much as 5% of the estate value according to moneyadviceservice.org.uk. 

Organising finances
Banks, building societies and insurance companies will require an original death certificate before allowing you to handle the deceased’s affairs. As well as settling outstanding tax or debts and transferring assets into an executor account set up for the estate, the executor will need to cancel Direct Debits and standing orders.

Distributing the estate
Individual items of personal property bequeathed in the Will can be given to beneficiaries before probate has been granted. Once you have probate, the remainder of the estate can be shared among the beneficiaries in accordance with the terms of the Will.

Taking on the executor role shouldn’t be underestimated; there is real responsibility and it can take months or even years to finally settle an estate. However, up to four executors can be named in a Will so you don’t have to take on all the responsibility yourself. And you can always get legal advice, recommended if the estate is complicated, where the terms of the Will are unclear or the estate is insolvent.

If you are asking someone to be your executor, remember that the more organised you are, the easier it will be to settle your affairs. From Will writing and funeral plans to prepaid probate plans, Golden Charter can help make things more straight forward for your executors. Visit our website for more information or call us free on 0800 111 4514.