Being an executor of a will
Last reviewed 09 June 2016
We take you through the steps involved in being an executor in England and Wales.
What is an executor?
An executor is someone named in a will as legally responsible for sorting out the deceased’s estate (that’s all their property, money and possessions less their debts).
Most executors appoint a solicitor to do the day-to-day work for them, but you can do it all yourself or ask a solicitor to do some of the more technical bits for you if you prefer. Your decision will probably come down to how much time you have and how complex the deceased’s affairs are.
Even if you do use a solicitor, it’s a good idea to know how the process works so you understand what work is being done on your behalf.
This guide covers being an executor in England and Wales only. The process differs in Northern Ireland and Scotland.
Appointing a solicitor to help
It’s often a good idea to contact at least three firms of solicitors to get quotes.
Some solicitors charge a percentage of the estate value, others charge on an hourly basis or quote a fixed fee. If they charge a fixed fee check the circumstances when you may be charged more than this. The cost of a solicitor is usually paid for by the estate.
To find solicitors in your area with wills and probate experience, try the Law Society’s Find a Solicitor service.
What does an executor do?
An executor’s responsibilities can be divided into five steps:
- sorting out the initial practical arrangements
- valuing the estate
- working out if Inheritance Tax is due and paying it
- applying for probate
- distributing the estate.
Initial practical arrangements
The first job is to check you have the most up-to-date will and are named as one of the executors. If you’re not sure you have the latest version, check the deceased’s paperwork and contact their bank and solicitor to see if there’s a more up-to-date will. You should also check with online will storage companies and the Probate Service.
Executors also often register the death, inform relatives and arrange the funeral – although a close relative may do this.
You should check the will to see if the person who died left particular instructions about their funeral and if they had a pre-paid funeral plan or any insurance specifically to cover the cost of their funeral.
If you arrange the funeral then you’ll be responsible for paying the costs. But you can claim these back from the deceased’s estate (banks sometimes release money to cover the cost of the funeral providing there is enough money in the deceased’s bank account).
Valuing the estate
You need to establish exactly what the person who died owned and what they owed. This involves gathering together all the relevant paperwork and checking who you need to contact such as the deceased’s bank, life insurance company, utility suppliers and their employer or pension provider. Notify each organisation of the death and ask how much the deceased was due or owed at the date of their death.
You may also need to re-direct their post to you and if their home is empty, ensure it’s properly secured and insured.
If they owned property, you’ll need to get this professionally valued. You may also need to do the same for valuable items over £500.
For more details, see HMRC’s guide on how to value an estate.
Work out if Inheritance Tax is due
Depending on the value of the estate there may be Inheritance Tax to pay. Working this out can be complicated and you may need a solicitor to help. HMRC also has a lot of useful information on its website.
If Inheritance Tax is due it must be paid within six months of the death to avoid penalties.
You must usually pay at least some of the Inheritance Tax due before you can get a grant of probate (see below). This can cause difficulties as you can’t usually access the money in the deceased’s estate until the grant is issued. However, check if there is a life insurance policy written in trust as this will pay out without a grant. It’s also sometimes possible to get a loan from the deceased’s bank.
Applying for probate
Usually you need to apply for probate before anyone can inherit the deceased’s money, property or possessions.
However, there are exceptions. For example, jointly-owned assets can pass to the survivor without a grant of probate (this includes joint bank accounts and property held as joint tenants) as can the proceeds of a life insurance policy written in trust and some death benefits from pensions. If the estate is small (less than £5,000) you may find that organisations will pay out the money without a grant (although this is at their discretion).
To apply for probate you need to complete form PA1 and send it to your local Probate Registry with supporting documents and a fee (£215 although there is no fee for estates under £5,000). Once you’ve sworn an oath that the information you’ve given is correct (either at a solicitor’s office or local probate office), probate will be issued.
Distributing the estate
Once you’ve got the grant of probate, you can send copies of it to the organisations holding the deceased’s money and ask them to release it to you. Ordinary photocopies won’t be accepted so you’ll need the Probate Registry to give you sufficient office copies. It’s a good idea to open an executor bank account to pay this money into.
Once you have collected all the money, you must pay off the deceased’s debts. Any remaining money, property and possessions should be distributed according to the will.
Your final job is to complete estate accounts, showing everything that has come in and what has been paid out, and get them approved and signed by the beneficiaries.