If you’re named as an executor in someone’s will, you’ll be responsible for sorting out their estate when they die.
The role of executor can be both time-consuming and stressful, as you’re the person responsible for sorting out the finances and possessions of the person who’s died, and passing these onto beneficiaries named in their will. If their financial situation is complicated, this can feel like an overwhelming task, and you may need to seek specialist help to administer their estate.
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What does being an executor involve?
An executor is the person who’s responsible for dealing with what’s known as ‘probate’, which essentially means they have the legal right and responsibility to sort out someone’s financial affairs after they’ve died. This is a process that can take months or even years to complete. Find out more about probate in our guide What is probate?
There doesn’t have to be more than one executor of a will, but most people appoint two, who are usually either relatives or friends. If you are appointed an executor, it’s important not to put off starting the probate process once the person who appointed you dies, as this could cause you issues and delays later on. Read more in our guide What to do when someone dies.
The process of getting a valuation of what’s in the deceased’s accounts for inheritance tax calculations, if applicable, may be relatively straightforward. But if the person who has died had complex affairs, for example, they owned their own business, or had joint accounts or debts then there are a few extra things that need to be done. Find out more in our article Dealing with the finances of someone who has died for more on managing complex financial situations.
Can you refuse to be an executor?
You can refuse to be an executor, even if you’re named as one in the will. If you decide you’re no longer comfortable taking on this role, you can opt to stand down or legally ‘renounce’ the position. You’ll need to sign this legal document and submit this to the Probate Registry to do so. You can call the Probate helpline for more information on 0300 303 0648.
What exactly are an executor’s duties?
If you’re an executor, there are a number of tasks you’ll need to complete:
Applying for a grant of probate
You’ll need to apply for a document called a ‘grant of probate’ that essentially gives you the authority as executor to access accounts, and distribute assets in accordance with the wishes detailed in the will. You can complete a probate application form online here and an inheritance tax form. For help completing these forms, contact the Government’s probate (0300 123 1072) or inheritance tax helplines.
You’ll need to send the forms to your local probate registry with a copy of the death certificate, the deceased’s original will (and three copies of this) and the £273 probate fee. This applies whether you carry out the probate process yourself or if a solicitor does it for you.
Seeking help from a probate specialist if needed
You need a probate specialist to help with dealing with the estate, particularly if it’s a complex estate or there’s an inheritance tax liability. They may be a solicitor or accountant. Find out more in our article When to use a probate solicitor or specialist.
Valuing the estate
You’lll need to value the estate of the person who’s died, which means getting up-to-date valuations at the time of death for any financial accounts, property and possessions. It also includes any financial gifts the person made within the last seven years of their life. Once you have worked out the correct figure, subtract any debts such as a mortgage, personal loans or credit card debts. This figure will have to be reported to HMRC to calculate any inheritance tax (IHT) that’s due on the estate. Find more information on Gov.uk.
Paying off debts and claiming life insurance
Debts may include a mortgage, credit cards or personal loans. If the person who died had a life insurance policy in place, you’ll need to contact the provider to claim any pay out. This may be used to cover inheritance tax bills, for example, or funeral costs.
Paying inheritance tax
Estates may be subject to inheritance tax (IHT) if they are valued over a particular amount. At present, the tax-free IHT allowance is £325,000, above which inheritance tax is payable at 40%. You’ll need a detailed valuation for valuable assets such as investments or a property for HMRC to calculate the IHT due on the estate. You can download the government’s inheritance tax form here and you can find out more about how IHT works in our guide What is Inheritance Tax?
Distributing the estate
If a specific item such as a piece of jewellery is to be given to a relative or friend (known as ‘bequeathed’) on someone’s death, it can be handed over before probate is granted, provided the item has been valued. Once IHT and any debts on the estate are paid, you can work out how much each beneficiary will inherit.
If any assets have been left to children under the age of 18, you’ll need to ensure at least two trustees have been named for these. In this case, assets will be held on trust by the trustees named in the will until they reach age 18.
Beneficiaries should be given an R185 tax form by executors if they receive an inheritance from a trust. This form is needed by HMRC to make sure that the correct amount of tax is paid on any income received from the trust.
How long does the probate process take?
The probate process typically takes around a year from the date of death until assets have been distributed to beneficiaries. It may take far less time than this, but even if the estate isn’t complicated and there are minimal assets, you can usually expect the process to take a good few months.
Once a grant of probate has been obtained, however, the estate can usually be distributed relatively quickly, even within weeks. That said, sometimes, executors wait six months before distributing the estate as it’s possible in some cases that claims may be made against it. If a claim is accepted, it may be settled, but if not, it’s possible the case may go to court.
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