How to Choose an Executor when Making a Will

What is an Executor?

An Executor is a person named in your Will who is responsible for administering your Estate (everything you own) after you die. So it's very important when making a Will to choose the right person or people as your Executor/s. When deciding who you should pick, it is worth looking at exactly what an Executor does.

Executor Duties and Responsibilities include

  • Informing financial institutions that you have passed away
  • Closing bank accounts
  • Deciding when to sell your house
  • Valuing and liquidating (selling) your assets
  • Collecting in money that is owed to the Estate
  • Dealing with Inheritance Tax forms and payments
  • Paying debts and expenses
  • Keeping careful accounts of all assets and liabilities
  • Finding all the beneficiaries named in your Will
  • Distributing the sums left after all debts have paid to beneficiaries in accordance with the terms of your Will.
  • Dealing with any tax matters arising during the administration of your estate.

These are challenging tasks, even in the case of a relatively straightforward estate, so you need someone with the right skills. In the case of a complex estate, it could take a significant period of time to the Executor to complete all their duties and responsibilities.

For initial legal advice get in touch with our Wills and Trusts Solicitors.

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What Skills Does an Executor Need?

An Executor assumes the duties of a Trustee and needs to be trustworthy, responsible and good at handling financial matters.  There will also be legal issues arising and the Executor will need to either have a good grasp on matters or seek advice.  Diplomacy is also required as there are often disagreements between beneficiaries over various issues.

The Probate Registry can refuse to issue a grant to an Executor on the basis of a number of reasons including bad character, neglect of duties, bankruptcy, disappearance and imprisonment.

It is important to note that an Executor is personally liable in case of loss brought about by his action or lack of action. 

Who Can be the Executor of a Will?

In England and Wales, you can pick anyone to be the Executor of your Will. This may be a spouse, civil partner or a child.  In case you chose a child a grant will only be issued to them when they get to 18 years. You can also choose a professional such as an accountant or Solicitor.

It is worth remembering that family members may find your loss very difficult to deal with, so be sure to ask them before naming them as an Executor in your Will as they may not feel able to deal with the responsibility at what is already a stressful time for them.

How Many Executors Can I Have?

The law provides that while you are entitled to choose any number of Executors a maximum of four will be named on the Grant of Probate.  If you have chosen more than 4 Executors the Probate Registry will issue the Grant to the first 4.  

Choosing too many Executors could be problematic, as there may be practical issues if four people are acting jointly, as well as disagreements on the best course of action. Many people opt for at least two Executors, as there is a chance that your chosen individual could die before you, in which case you’ll need someone else ready to take on the role. 

Additionally, if your Will sets up a Trust as the Executors are usually also the initial Trustees it is recommended that you have two Trustees.

If an Executor decides after your death that they do not want to act they can renounce probate or have “power reserved”.  Having power reserved means that do not appear on the grant but if something should happen to the named Executor they can apply for a grant at a later stage.

Can a Family Member and a Professional be Joint Executors?

Yes. There is no reason why you can’t have a member of your family as one Executor and your Solicitor or Accountant as another. This could allow for a good division of roles, as the relative could deal directly with other members of the family, while the complex paperwork could be left in the hands of an experienced professional.

Furthermore, a professional will be able to get on the job without dealing with the emotional impact of your loss and can handle these complex affairs in an objective and informed way. However, this is a more expensive option than naming a family member as an Executor, so you’d need to look into how much it costs.

Can an Executor be a Beneficiary of My Will?

Yes. There is no reason why your Executor can’t be left a gift in your Will and some people like to leave Executors gifts dependent on them taking on the role of Executor.  It is important to recall that if your Executor is a beneficiary under your Will they should not witness your Will. 

What if I Don’t Have a Suitable Person to Be an Executor?

Solicitors are often appointed as Executors where there is no one willing or able to assume the role amongst your friends and family. We would be happy to assist with this.

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