executor duties

The legal side of executorship

Although you don’t need to have specific legal knowledge to be an executor, you nevertheless need to take care when taking on the role, as you can be found personally liable, should you not carry out the probate process properly.

Your first action should be to ensure that any valuables, including the deceased’s home, continues to be fully ensured during this time in case of accident or intentional damage. 

Secondly, it is always advisable to use the services of professional probate valuers to ensure that whatever is sold, is done so at a reasonable cost, ensuring that beneficiaries are left with as much of the estate as possible.

Remember that all debts must be identified and paid (including Inheritance Tax) before any remaining assets can be distributed.

Always advertise the person’s death, so that any potential claimants or creditors can get in contact and any disputes have a chance to be ironed out.

Finally, it goes without saying that you must be able to demonstrate at all times that your actions were carried out in the best interests of the deceased and the beneficiaries, not your own personal gain.

The role of several executors

 

We all know that it is the executor of a will who ensures that all outstanding debts and taxes are paid on a deceased’s estate, before distributing the remaining assets as instructed by the will.

However, what happens when, as is so often the case, several executors have been nominated by the deceased?

Legally, up to four executors can in fact be identified, although they are not obliged to take up the role.

The democratic route is of course to agree on all actions taken during the probate process, although this can slow the whole procedure down considerably and give rise to disagreements.

A more efficient route is for all executors to identify and nominate one trusted individual to take charge and see that the probate process is carried out correctly.

In either instance, it is always advised that open, prompt and honest communication is the key to settling the deceased’s estate most quickly, accurately and with the minimum of stress and fuss.

Can I be held personally liable as executor?

Executors can indeed be held personally liable if they make a mistake during the probate process – something which they may not have realised when they agreed to act in this role. 
 
In more complex cases where an estate is not straightforward, the contents of a will have been misinterpreted or disputes have arisen, some executors have faced financial or legal prosecution from the tax man, beneficiaries of the estate or creditors.
 
One of the main tasks as executor is to have the assets valued as part of the final estate of the deceased. This can be a minefield if not carried out correctly, as HMRC is likely to pick up on an estate which has been undervalued – meaning the executor could be faced with additional tax and financial penalties, for which they will be held personally responsible, rather than the money coming out of the final estate.
 
It is vital therefore, that during the probate process, all actions are kept absolutely transparent through the maintenance of accurate record keeping. Notes should be made of all outstanding creditors and debts, valuer details and valuations given to ensure that the likelihood of a personal prosecution is kept to a minimum.

What if I don’t want to be executor?

Being an executor means that you are personally responsible for administering and distributing your loved one’s Estate accurately.
 
It can take up a considerable amount of time and is sometimes stressful, so if you feel that someone else would be better placed to be executor, you can be refused when you are first asked by the testator.
 
If you initially agreed to be executor for fear of upsetting the testator, you can still then turn down the role in the event of their death.
 
However, if you’ve already begun to administer the Estate and are part way through the probate process, you cannot decide to revoke your rights if you find that the process is too challenging without formally renouncing your position. This is carried out by notifying the Probate Office.
 
If you are unsure about the role, duties and responsibilities of an executor and are reluctant to accept the position; it is better to notify the testator at the time you are asked, rather than delay the probate process and make it even more upsetting for the beneficiaries at this potentially vulnerable time.

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