The property, money and other assets of a deceased’s estate are not distributed to beneficiaries until a legal process known as Probate has been completed. Under the rules of Probate, ownership of assets automatically goes first to the executors of the estate.
An executor of an estate can be an independent party, such as a solicitor, or a beneficiary of an estate, such as a family member.
What does an executor of an estate do?
The executor’s primary duties involve the administration and valuation of the estate and the conclusion of any unfinished business of the deceased. Once this work is completed, ownership of assets passes to the legal beneficiaries. Where a valid will is in place, ownership of assets passes to the beneficiaries named in the will.
Duties of an executor
An executor has a wide range of specific duties and responsibilities to ensure that the deceased’s estate is managed and distributed in accordance with the rules of Probate. In many cases this work can be completed within a few months. However, more complex cases may take much longer to conclude.
Executors are initially responsible for arranging the funeral. Family members may also be executors of the estate, so the family often organises this themselves.
Executors are then responsible for:
Ensuring the property and assets of the estate are appropriately secured and valued
Informing all relevant parties that the individual has died, such as banks, insurance companies, pension providers, utility providers and HMRC
Proactively seeking out creditors, to ensure that all valid claims on the estate are honoured
Preparation of the final estate value statement, completion of the Inheritance Tax form and submission to HMRC
Applying for Probate to the Court
The executors must also swear an oath stating the final value of the estate, their entitlement to probate, and their pledge to correctly perform their executor duties.
Liabilities of an executor
Executors can be held liable if they are proven negligent, fraudulent or unfairly biased in the performance of their executor duties.
Liability of an executor may arise in situations such as:
Profiting from their executor role, unless expressly permitted to do so
Putting their personal interests first, to the detriment of beneficiaries
Failing to account for all money or other assets received in their executor capacity
Failing to act reasonably and sensibly in their administration of the estate
Duties of an Executor
The liabilities of an executor can be onerous and potentially extend over several years.
Do appointed executors have to act?
It is possible for a named executor to choose not to act, which is known as ‘renouncing’.
Another option is for a named executor to have their power ‘reserved’. This enables an executor to step back, allowing other executors to handle the administration. If issues with the administration of the estate arise, executor power may be reclaimed, allowing appropriate intervention.
Once administration of the estate has commenced, it is no longer possible to renounce, or reserve, executor responsibility.