I’ve been appointed as an executor. What should I do?

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In today’s blog, we look at the role of the executor to a deceased person’s estate and what to do if you don’t want to act.

What Is an Executor?

An executor (or executrix, the feminised version) of an estate is an individual appointed to administer the estate of a deceased person. The executor’s main duty is to carry out the instructions to manage the affairs and wishes of the deceased person’s estate. The executor is appointed either by the testator of the will (the individual who makes the will) or by a court, in cases wherein there was no prior appointment.

How do Executors work?

The executor is responsible for making sure all assets in the will are accounted for, along with transferring these assets to the correct parties. Assets can include financial holdings, such as stocks, shares, bonds or money market investments, property, and chattels. 

The executor also needs to ensure that all the debts of the deceased are paid off, including any taxes, loans, or mortgages. The executor is legally obliged to meet the wishes of the deceased and act in the interest of the deceased. 

Some people agree to be an executor thinking that it will be years before they have to do any work. However, doing the job properly means going to work immediately. 

To be prepared, you should:

  • Make sure the testator is keeping a list of assets and debts, including bank accounts, investment accounts, insurance policies, real estate, and so on.
  • Know where the original will and the asset list is being held and how to access them.
  • Know the names and contact details of solicitors named by the testator, and what their function is.
  • Discuss the testator’s wishes as far as a funeral or memorial service, including instructions for burial or cremation.
  • Discuss the will with the testator in order to minimize problems in the future.
  • Have a copy of all these documents.

Again, it is important that you have the time to do gather this information as soon as possible after you’ve agreed to be the executor.

What if you don’t want to act as an executor?

The role of an executor is not always easy. As well as the legal forms that need to be completed, there may be complexities in administering the estate once the appropriate grant of probate or letters of administration have been received. There may be taxes to pay. For that reason, many people seek the assistance of a lawyer to help them in their role. A good solicitor will assist in applying for probate and in the administration as well as preparing final accounts and dealing with the distribution of the estate along with paying any taxes.

But that doesn’t mean that you have to act. If you are uncomfortable in acting there are three options that are open to you:

  • Renouncing the Appointment

In essence, this is the process of withdrawing your consent to act. To renounce executorship, you will need to have a deed of renunciation drafted by a solicitor. This document must be signed and lodged with the Probate Registry. Once it has been lodged it is final, and can only be retracted if you have permission from a District Judge or Registrar. In order to renounce however you must not have “intermeddled” in the estate (more on that below).

  • Having power reserved if there is another executor who can act instead

When a will names more than one executor, not all of the executors have to act if they don’t want to. If one executor doesn’t want to act, they can have power reserved to them, which means that they won’t need to take an active role in the administration of the estate. The other executors will then take on all of the probate responsibilities. The major difference to renouncing is that having power reserved is easily reversed if someone changes their mind. It is also possible to have power reserved if the executor has intermeddled in the estate.

  • Appointing an Attorney to Act on the Executor’s Behalf

An executor named in a will can also decide to appoint someone as their “attorney” to act on their behalf and to administer the Estate for them. This is done by way of a Limited Power of Attorney, which would state that the attorney is only able to act in relation to administering the Estate, and not in relation to the executor’s own personal affairs. When someone is appointed using a Power of Attorney, they essentially step into the shoes of the executor and have the same powers that the Executor would have themselves. An executor can appoint an attorney to act in their place even if they have “intermeddled” in the estate, so as long as the grant of probate has not been applied for. An attorney can be a friend or family member or an executor may wish to instruct a professional person or organisation, such a solicitor, to act as their attorney.

What is Intermeddling?

If you are considering stepping down as an executor, you need to be clear that you have not intermeddled in the estate before you decide which course of action to take. Intermeddling means that you have handled the deceased person’s assets or held yourself out in the role of an executor. This could be collecting an asset or paying a debt. It could also mean you have dealt with handing over an asset to a beneficiary or have been running the deceased’s business after their death.

Certain acts, however, are not regarded as intermeddling, such as arranging the funeral, securing goods or moving assets to a place of safety. By preserving the estate assets initially, you are not considered to be assuming the role of executor and are therefore not intermeddling.

If, on the other hand, you have started to distribute assets or paid debts from the estate you will almost certainly intermeddled and the option of renouncing executorship will no longer be open to you.

If you have been appointed an executor and need assistance with the probate procedure or alternative are uncomfortable in taking on the responsibility of the role, why not contact one of Alexander JLO’s expert probate team and see what we can do for you?

6 thoughts on “I’ve been appointed as an executor. What should I do?

  1. Hua Chan says:

    My late Mother‘s Will has appointed her two sons acting as executors, one of them wants to stepping down or given up as executor. Can he appoint me (i am his elder brother) as attnorey to adminstrate the financial affairs? Which procedures we need to carry out? Please advise.

    • Peter Johnson says:

      Thank you for your interest in our blog.

      If the executor, for any reason does not want to be an executor and has not dealt with the estate in any meaningful way (‘intermeddled’), they may renounce their position by way of a formal Deed of Renunciation or form PA15. The Deed of Renunciation is effective from the date that it is signed. If there are other executors named in the will, they will act in the role without the renouncing executor; likewise, there may be substitute executors appointed who can then act. Alternatively the remaining son can act formally as executor and you can assist. We would be delighted to give you further advice and assistance if required.

      Peter Johnson
      Senior Partner

  2. Mandy says:

    My friend passed away and she hasn’t spoken to her family for 40 years she put me as next of kin, but now her family want to deal with it. Do I walk away ? As there’s no will, but will I give everything by doing so?

    • Peter Johnson says:

      Thank you for your interest in our blog.

      I am uncertain as to what you mean by “she put you as next of kin” but under the laws of intestacy which apply when somebody dies without a will, it is likely that your friend’s family members will benefit from her estate even if she has not spoken to them in 40 years.

      Under the terms of the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 there is a possibility that you may have a claim if you can show that (a) you fall within the class of people entitled to make a claim and (b) you have not passed the time limits for such a claim. We would need to explore the specifics with you to determine any possible entitlement. You are welcome to email us direct on peter@london-law.co.uk

      Peter Johnson
      Senior Partner

  3. Alison Lockyer says:

    My brother was appointed executor for my late father’s estate. When Dad passed away my brother appointed a solicitor to apply for probate. Does this mean that the solicitor is now responsible for managing the post-probate expenses and accounts? Or does this responsibility still lie with my brother?

    • Peter Johnson says:

      Thank you for your interest in our blog.

      The simple answer to your question lies with what was agreed between your brother and his solicitor. 

      Usually a solicitor would ascertain the value of the assets, apply for probate, arrange payment of any inheritance tax, receive monies due to the estate, finalise the accounts and then distribute the assets but at the end of the day your brother as Executor is responsible.

      Peter Johnson
      Senior Partner

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