What to do when you are named as the executor of a will
By Jodie Wielgus, Ramsdens Solicitors
One of the most important aspects of caring for an older relative or loved one is helping them sort out their financial affairs, ensuring they are able to enjoy their twilight years with peace of mind. This means helping them take care of their assets and obligations while they are still alive, as well as making preparations for what will happen when they are no longer around.
If you are named as the executor of a loved one’s estate, you will play a particularly central role in ensuring their intentions are respected after their death, taking responsibility for setting their affairs in order, and sharing out their estate according to their wishes. For those who have never done this before, this can feel like a daunting task, and many may be unsure about how to prepare for the legal responsibilities this involves.
As such, the expert probate, wills and trusts solicitors at Ramsdens have created some advice on what you need to consider when administering an estate and how to prepare for this responsibility, ensuring you are able to do right by your loved one, even after they are gone.
What are the responsibilities of the executor of a will?
When a person dies, they will leave behind various assets – including finances, properties and personal possessions – which are collectively known as their estate. If you are selected as the executor of a will, it is your legal responsibility to account for this estate, collecting everything together and making sure it is passed along to the intended recipients specified in the will – a process known as estate administration.
As the executor of your loved one’s will, you will need to review all of these assets after they die to make sure they can be transferred to the specified beneficiaries in a timely manner. To accomplish this, you will need to do the following:
- Find the person’s original will, whether this is located at their home or with a solicitor
- Locate all of the person’s financial documentation to identify everything included the estate, and create a detailed list of assets
- Obtain a valuation of all of the assets, working with specialist valuers where necessary
- Send a copy of the person’s death certificate to any organisations holding the money of the deceased, in order to confirm the value of the funds and freeze the accounts
- Calculate any debts and liabilities of the estate, including from mortgages, loans and credit cards
- Work out the amount of inheritance tax due on the estate and arranging for it to be paid
- Set up a bank account on behalf of the estate, from which these outstanding debts and financial obligations will be paid
- Arrange for the costs of the funeral to be paid
- Complete and send off all the relevant documentation required by the probate registry and HM Revenue & Customs
- Collect all of the assets of the estate together and redistribute them according to the terms of the deceased’s will
- Create detailed accounts for the estate, ensuring that everyone is able to see that all of the assets have been properly accounted for
When you are named as the executor of a will, you become the estate’s personal representative in the eyes of the law. Although this does not mean you will be personally liable for any debts or disputes that may arise regarding the estate, it does mean you will be expected to take responsibility for settling these debts and arranging for any disputes to be settled.
What actions will you need to take to administer an estate and prove a will?
Before you can carry out any of these actions, you may need to obtain legal permission to do so. This is called applying for a grant of probate, and is an essential step in moving the process along.
In order to apply for probate, you must do the following:
- Check that you are eligible to apply
- Locate the person’s death certificate and their original will, as well as any additions made to the will
- Provide an estimate of the value of the estate
- Pay back at least some of the tax owed by the estate – this can be claimed back from the estate or the beneficiaries at a later date
- Pay any relevant court application fees
- Make your application to the nearest local district probate registry
A probate application can be made either by post or online, and will usually be granted in four to six weeks, although this can be longer if there is a backlog of applications, or the estate is particularly complex.
Is proving a will different for those with power of attorney?
Many of those who are named as executors of a will have often also been given legal responsibilities to deal with their loved one’s affairs while they were still alive. This is known as having power of attorney, and it can be a logical choice to select the same person for this responsibility.
However, it is important to remember that acting as an attorney is not the same as being an executor, and that having power of attorney does not automatically give you the right to represent the estate after the person dies. Indeed, your power of attorney expires at the point of their death, and in order to carry on acting for the deceased, you must be entitled to do so under the terms of the will.
In this regard, these roles are completely separate from each other in legal terms, with no overlap of responsibilities – as such, if you have been asked to fulfil both roles, it is important to make sure you have properly prepared for the transition that will occur when the person dies.
How best can I prepare to prove a will?
There is no denying that proving a will and administering an estate can be a complicated process, with plenty of steps that need to be taken to ensure that your loved one’s estate is looked after properly. If you have been named as the executor of a will, it is therefore important to seek out advice on what you will need to do, and review all of your responsibilities in advance to make sure you are ready.
In most cases, executors of a will choose to seek professional guidance from a specialist solicitor. A solicitor can make sure that none of these crucial obligations are overlooked, as well as handling many of the more complex aspects of the probate process for you, including the completion of legal paperwork.
By preparing in the right way, you can play an important role in protecting your loved one’s legacy, while making sure their family and friends are properly provided for. As such, there are few more meaningful ways to demonstrate how much you care – even after they are gone.
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Photo by Elsa Tornabene on Unsplash.