A personal representative for someone’s estate may be able to step down, although it will depend on a number of factors that should be taken into consideration first. The first question that needs to be asked is whether they have been appointed as an executor, or as an administrator.
If they are an executor, they can choose to step down – except in the case of two exceptions. They can do this even if they initially agree to the task, and this can happen due to a variety of reasons including ill health, another bereavement, or workload. If the executor wishes to step down, they must sign a Deed of Renunciation. This document means that the executor agrees to give up the role and any responsibilities that come with it. The deed is then filed with the Probate Registry and is made final. If the executor changes their mind and does want to take on the role after a Deed of Renunciation has been filed, a court can assess the situation. They cannot simply start carrying out the work without a court having given them permission.
There are two situations in which an executor is not able to step down from the role. The first is when the Grant of Probate has already been issued to the executor. If an executor no longer wishes to perform the role, then they cannot be issued with a Grant of Probate. There is the possibility that the Grant of Probate can be revoked so that the executor can step down, but this would only happen in exceptional circumstances.
The second situation in which an executor cannot step down is if they have ‘intermeddled’ in the estate. This is when the executor has begun and administrative work before the Grant of Probate has been issued.
An administrator is somewhat different to an executor. An administrator is a personal executive who is appointed by the Probate Registry if there are no executors named in a will (or they have died or stepped down), or no will at all. If they don’t want to take up the role, they don’t have to do anything – they simply don’t act. There are no forms to complete and no one to notify.
Pension scheme nominations aren’t always as clear cut as they may seem. The press recently reported on an IFA who was shocked to learn that on the death of her husband, she was not permitted to receive funding from his pension scheme until after probate had taken place – despite having been nominated as beneficiary.
Friends Life informed Ms Brookes that as no discretionary trust was in place, they were unable to tell her when she would receive any funds. In the meantime, she was forced to find the money herself, to pay for funeral costs.
It seems that although a beneficiary nomination form was in place, Friends Life only considered this to be an expression of wish, placing the decision of who the money was to go to, in the hands of the administrator of the pension scheme.
This doesn’t necessarily mean however, that a beneficiary nomination isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. The administrator must take this indication of wish into account, along with the actual will, when distributing the deceased’s final estate.