Being an executor of a will

Published  20 October 2022
   5 min read

An executor is someone who is legally responsible for sorting out the legal and financial affairs of someone who's died.

What does an executor of a will do?

An executor can only take on this role if they have been named in the will of the person who died. The main part of their role is to carry out the wishes of the person who died, as they are set out in their will. If there's no will, then the person who sorts out the deceased's legal and financial affairs is called an administrator. The role of an executor and administrator is essentially the same so to keep things simple we’ll just use the word ‘executor’ to cover both roles in this guide.

This guide covers being an executor or administrator in England and Wales only. Different rules apply for dealing with an estate in Northern Ireland and Scotland. Some of these rules are covered in the below guides:

Appointing a solicitor to help

Most people appoint a solicitor to do the day-to-day work of carrying out the wishes that are included in the will. 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 affairs of the person who died are.

It’s often a good idea to contact at least three firms of solicitors to get quotes.

Some solicitors charge a fee that's a percentage of the value of the property, money and possessions that the person who died left behind. 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 (that means that the solicitor's fees have to be covered by the money and/or possessions that the person who died left behind).

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?

Executors have five main responsibilities. These are:

  • 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 paperwork of the person who died 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.

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 costs.

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 bank account of the person who died).

Valuing the estate

To value someone’s 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 person who died was due or owed at the date of their death.

Work out if inheritance tax is due

Depending on the value of the estate there may be inheritance tax to pay:

  • If no inheritance tax is due you will need to complete form IHT205.
  • If there is inheritance tax to pay you’ll need to complete form IHT400.
  • If you would like help filling in the forms contact HMRC’s probate and inheritance tax helpline on 0300 123 1072.

You usually have to pay some of any inheritance tax before you can apply for a grant of probate (see below). This can cause difficulties as you can’t usually access the money in the person whose died's estate until probate is issued. However, check if there is a life insurance policy written in trust as this will pay out without probate. Alternatively, you can ask banks or building societies to pay some or all of the tax due from the accounts of the person who died directly to HMRC using the Direct Payment Scheme. Another possible option is to get a loan from the deceased’s bank.

Applying for probate

Usually you need to apply for probate before anyone can inherit any money, property or possessions as set out in the will.

However, there are exceptions. For more on probate see our guide.

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 enough extra certified 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 any debts that the person who died had. 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 (the people who inherit under the terms of the will).

Do you need extra support?

Have you lost someone and it’s impacting you financially? Do you need some guidance on what you need to think about? You can get in touch and we’ll help you find the right assistance based on your needs.