Topic overview

Probate, executors and estate administration

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Normally when an individual draws up a will, it will include one or more named executors. When the individual dies, the executor(s) of the will become responsible for estate administration.

The executors' tasks include collecting up all the money, property, possessions and other assets, paying off any debts and inheritance tax, and distributing the estate to the beneficiaries.

If the executors are unwilling or unable to act, if the will does not name any executors, or if there is no will at all, then an administrator takes responsibility for the estate.

Becoming executor of the will (or administrator)

If a friend or family member would like you to be executor of the will when they die, they will probably ask you. Think carefully about whether you want this responsibility.

Being executor of the will can be complicated and time-consuming at a time when you may well be upset by the loss of a friend or family member.

Although you can later renounce being an executor of the will, it's preferable to let the testator (the person making the will) know so they can choose an alternative.

On the plus side, being an executor of the will allows you to make sure your friend or relative's wishes are respected. You will also be able to look after the interests of the beneficiaries. Often, one or more beneficiaries will be asked to be executor of the will.

If the will does not name any executors, the beneficiaries have the right to apply to act as administrator. If there is no will at all, then the closest relatives - who will inherit under the rules of intestacy - can apply to take on the role of estate administration.

What does an executor of a will do?

Estate administration involves identifying the deceased's assets and debts, paying off creditors, and then distributing what's left.

If you are named as executor of the will, you automatically become responsible for estate administration when the testator dies.

However, you normally need to apply for a grant of probate before you can get the official authority to deal with the assets. As part of this, you work out the value of the estate and complete inheritance tax forms for HM Revenue & Customs. Probate application fees are payable.

If inheritance tax is payable, you'll need to pay some or all of the tax due.

Estate administration can be complex, particularly if the estate is large or complicated or if there is likely to be any kind of a dispute.

As executor of the will, you have significant financial and legal responsibilities. You also have potential liabilities. For example, if you start paying out inheritances before repaying debts you might be held personally responsible.

If in any doubt, consider appointing a professional to help with estate administration.

Reviewed by Andrea Pierce, Legal Services Director, Kings Court Trust

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