I am sometimes asked for advice on what is expected of an executor.
I am not a lawyer, but I have had some experience of helping friends who find themselves in this role. The main duty of an executor is to ensure that the assets of the deceased are distributed in accordance with the will. The attached article expands on those duties & responsibilities. Read more below, and if you ever find yourself in this position and would like some guidance, do not hesitate to be in touch.
The Duties of an Executor
The duties of the executors, inter alia, are as follows:
- Obtain certified copies of the Death Certificate (6 copies will usually be plenty and abbreviated copies will suffice).
- Put a stop to all standing orders and DDs on bank accounts – all bank accounts (except bank accounts held jointly with spouse) and share accounts will be frozen,( That is, the executors cannot access the capital or give instructions as to sales or purchases. But income will accumulate for the benefit of the executors and of course the beneficiaries.)
- Appoint a ‘professional’ to act for the executors and beneficiaries and obtain a fixed fee quote for completing the executry and also a quote for how long it will take (should be between 3 to 6 months).
- Make an inventory of the deceased’s net assets. These will include property, savings, chattels and other assets. From this total you will deduct any debt and the cost of the funeral.
- Complete HMRC IHT400 (and the many supplementary forms) and calculate the amount of Inheritance Tax (IHT) payable. At the same time complete the Probate/Confirmation forms ( PAP1/C1). A little warning! Forms PAP1/C1 need to be very carefully prepared – one inadvertent/tiny error and the court – to whom forms PAP1/C1 are sent once HMRC has agreed the amount of IHT payable – will reject the application, sometimes without giving you a clue as to what is wrong!
- Pay the IHT before the expiry of 6 months (to avoid interest).
- Forms PA1P ( England & Wales) and C1 (Scotland) are essentially just a replica of IHT400. But when you apply for Probate (Confirmation in Scotland) to the court nearest the place of death, ensure you pay the right amount for the certificates you need.(The amounts increase from time to time – just go online and check – the Scottish courts charge a lot more than their English equivalents!)
- Having obtained Probate/Confirmation, send certificates to custodian of each asset and selling agent for house.
- Having collected all the assets, the executors will distribute the assets of the deceased to the beneficiaries in accordance with the will.
- Executries can be emotional and occasionally disputatious if there is more than one beneficiary. It is important therefore to appoint a ‘professional’ – usually a solicitor – to obtain Probate/Confirmation who is not a friend of any of the beneficiaries. (The IHT400 can be completed by anyone but it should be checked by a professional. This ensures impartiality.)
- The executors can put the deceased’s property on the market at any time but with the proviso that it cannot finally be sold (i.e. exchange of contract/ missives) until Probate/Confirmation has been finally obtained.
- When asking for a ‘professional’ quote, give a description of the assets e.g. property, share portfolio, bank accounts, chattels, etc without ascribing exact value. This means that the ‘professional’ is not influenced by the value of the estate (large or small).
- Probate/Confirmation is just the name for the piece of paper that confirms to the District Probate Registry that the assets exist and belong to the deceased. Presentation of the Probate/Confirmation Certificate to the custodians of the various assets allows the assets to be transferred from those custodians to the executors for distribution to the relevant beneficiaries. In the case of share portfolios, banks and property, this should be executed through a solicitor. (Where there is only one beneficiary – for example a surviving spouse – the assets can pass directly to the spouse.)
- Having obtained custody of the various assets, the executors, acting with the agreement of the adult beneficiaries will distribute the assets to the named beneficiaries. Any property will need to be sold to realise cash to pay the beneficiaries.
- In my experience of helping executors of estates, there are some particularly expensive executry practitioners who enjoy “milking” the whole process, dotting every “I” and crossing every “t” just to justify exorbitant fees. And they often take much too long. Having said that, if the beneficiaries are difficult, then the process can drag on and the legal fees are probably justifiable. Be under no illusions – the responsibility of an executor is potentially onerous. And it is unfortunately true that “where there is a will there is usually a relative.”
Andrew Hamilton DipPFS, Chartered Tax Advisor , November 2019 (& updated October 2020).