If you’ve been asked to be an executor of a will, someone trusts you a lot and they want to give you an important responsibility of sorting out their life after death. An executor is legally responsible for handling the estate of the deceased person, including money, possessions and property. This can seem quite daunting at first but we’re here to help you with the most important things you should know about dealing with this responsibility.
How do I become an executor and can I change my mind?
Before we get into your duties as an executor of a will, it’s important to understand how you can become one. You won’t just find out one day that you have this responsibility – you always need to agree with the person that this is something you both want. It’s also important to keep in mind that a testator can appoint up to four executors so the responsibilities are not often solely on a single person’s shoulders.
You also have options if you don’t want to be an executor any longer. The easiest is to have a discussion with the testator while they are alive and ask them to appoint a different person instead. But you can also change your mind even after the testator has died and before you need to start acting out your duties. You can find more about how from this Gazette guide.
The key duties of an executor of a will
The key duties of an executor include a range of tasks. Many of them can take months to complete although not all of them are relevant in all cases. The main duties of an executor include:
- Registering the death
- Organising the funeral
- Sorting out copies of the death certificate and the will
- Taking responsibility for property
- Applying for probate
- Sorting out finances, including the valuation of the estate
- Paying any inheritance tax and other required taxes
- Distributing the estate
This can seem like a lot of duties and responsibilities. However, you can make it easier by preparing well for your duties and sorting out the key tasks first.
Preparation can smoothen the process
The above duties can seem more overwhelming if you don’t do any preparations while the testator is still alive. If you regularly go over the key duties and the relevant documentation, you don’t have as much to sort out once the person dies. Here are the key things you should do in preparation:
Be aware of the will
Firstly, it’s crucial to know where the testator keeps the original will and other important documents. As an executor of a will, you should know the location of:
- The will
- Partnership documents
- Insurance papers
It can be a good idea to have copies of these documents available and to make sure they are up to date at least once a year.
Record the testator’s preferences
Talk with the person about their preferences in terms of the funeral and other wishes they might have. Knowing you’re following their wishes can help you during this difficult time.
List possessions and assets
You should also go over the testator’s most important assets and possessions while they are still alive. Having a list of them at hand will make it much smoother to sort out the estate later on. It’s also a good idea to list all possessions and create a draft document of how the testator might want possessions to be distributed.
The main things to focus on after death
As the range of duties shows, you have to consider and keep in mind many things after the person’s death. To make the process a little less overwhelming, here are key tips on what are the most important actions you should focus on when a person dies:
Apply for probate (if needed)
In some cases, you’ll need to apply for probate to act out your duties as an executor of a will. It’s a legal document providing you with the authority to share out the estate of the deceased person. This is not always required and you may need to apply for letters of administration instead. This applies in cases where:
- There is no will or it isn’t valid
- No executors were named in the will or they are unwilling or unable to act
You might not need to go through with either option but it is good to be aware of them.
Reporting the death
The key is to ensure all relevant authorities are aware the person has died as soon as possible. In England and Wales, a service called Tell Us Once Service is extremely helpful, as it reports a death to most government departments at once.
You’ll also want to order multiple copies of the official death certificate. The certificate will be a required piece of paper for many of the duties and tasks you have to perform in the coming months and it helps to have multiple copies at hand.
You should also focus on talking to possible creditors. The official public record of legal notices in the UK is the Gazette. Placing a notice there will help creditors know that they need to claim against the estate. If you don’t, then you might end up having to pay off the debt with your own money.
Ask for guidance
You don’t have to deal with your responsibilities and duties alone. When someone asks you to be an executor, it’s helpful to talk to them about appointing at least one other person for the role to ensure duties are shared. You should also consider suggesting the other person is an accountant or a lawyer to make the process easier. Even if you don’t share responsibilities, you can always talk to a professional about your duties. They can direct you towards the right resources and ensure you’re not missing anything essential.
At Devonshire Green, we’ve dealt with numerous estates and have experience of acting as executors of a will. If you would like to talk to us about your duties as an executor of a will or consider appointing us to look after your estate, don’t hesitate to contact us today.