The role of the executors

The executor is the legal term for the person, but usually persons, chosen by the deceased person to act as their representative(s) after their death. They must be named in the will. The main role of the executors is an administrative one. 

They are responsible for gathering in the deceased’s assets, paying off any debts and settling any Inheritance Tax liability before distributing the balance of the assets to those entitled under the terms of the will.

Number of executors

Any number of executors can be named in the will but the maximum number who may be appointed to act by the Probate Registry at any one time is four.

Sometimes, people only appoint one executor. This is acceptable especially when the estate is very straightforward. However, it is advisable to appoint at least two. This ensures the avoidance of a problem if one of the executors is unable to act through ill health or for some other reason.

Who should be appointed?

Executors will often be the deceased’s next of kin. If a person’s affairs are in any way complicated it makes good sense to appoint a mix of family, trusted friends and professionals such as a solicitor. Potential executors will be reassured to hear that they can be a beneficiary under the Will.

The people chosen to be the executors should confirm that they are willing to act before they are appointed in the will. They should be aged eighteen or over and realistically it is sensible for a person to choose people of their age or younger rather than an older generation.

Accepting the appointment

An executor is not obliged to accept the appointment. If a person is appointed as an executor in the will but then feels unable to act for whatever reason after the person’s death, they can decline to act by writing to the probate registry confirming that they are standing down.

However, once the appointment is accepted, they cannot subsequently change their mind except for a serious reason such as ill health.

Are executors paid?

Unless specified in the will, a private individual acting as an executor cannot charge a fee. However, they will be able to charge any expenses incurred while carrying out their duties.

These costs may be incurred paying for such items as probate fees, bank charges and copies of the death certificate or as administrative costs including for travel, telephone, stationary and postage costs. The executors should be careful to retain all receipts as these will need to be included in the estate accounts.

A professional person who is appointed as one of the executors will be able to charge a fee and this should be met by the estate.

Executors’ responsibility

Executors become personally responsible for the deceased’s estate when they accept the appointment. When there is more than one executor, this responsibility is shared and all decisions must be unanimous.

Thereafter they could be sued personally, for example, by a creditor. Likewise, if the amount of Inheritance Tax is calculated incorrectly, they could become Liable.

How long will it take?

As each estate is different, it is difficult to predict with any certainty how long it will take to firstly obtain the grant of probate and to then administer the estate. As a rough guide, it should take six to nine months for an estate that includes property.

Appointing a solicitor or other professional adviser

Unless the estate is small and straightforward, the executors should consider appointing a solicitor or other professional to assist them in carrying out their duties. The cost will be paid from the estate.

From the family’s perspective this will mean they are not burdened with legal work at a time when they are grieving. The potential for conflicts between family members can also be reduced. The burden of Inheritance Tax is beginning to affect an increasing number of families.

If there is a potential Inheritance Tax liability, professional help may be able to reduce the amount payable. In any event, if the estate includes trusts, business assets or foreign property, professional expertise will be essential.

Please note

Please note that information which we provide through Lasting Post is in outline for information or educational purposes only. The information is not a substitute for the professional judgment of a solicitor, accountant or other professional adviser. We cannot guarantee that information provided by Lasting Post will meet your individual needs, as this will very much depend on your individual circumstances. You should therefore use the information only as a starting point for your enquiries.