An executor is always expected to act reasonably when it comes to dealing with someone’s will and estate. They must act in the best interests of the estate, and the beneficiaries named in the will. This involves a number of things including getting the best possible price for any property or assets that are sold. It also means that they should ensure that the death is registered correctly. If this is not done, there could be serious implications that affect many people, and their inheritances.
The estate must be calculated correctly as well. This is to make sure that, if any inheritance tax is due, it is paid on time, and at the correct figure. This needs to be done before any of the money and assets are distributed.
The death should also be ‘advertised’, for example it could be announced in a national newspaper. This is so that anyone who is not mentioned in the will but who is owed money by the estate can contact the executor to arrange for payment. These debts must be paid off before any beneficiaries can inherit. If this is not done, and someone makes a claim after the money has been distributed, the executor may be liable for the debt.
If someone disputes the will (ie, if they question whether the will is valid, or if they have evidence that there is a newer will, for example) then there could be further claims. Being executor is an important job with huge responsibility, and it is always worth getting independent legal advice if you take the job on, to prepare you.
Sometimes, a will will need to be destroyed. They are such important documents, and can make such a difference to someone’s life and legacy, that if you decide to amend or completely change yours for any reason, then ideally the original version (and all other copies, come to that) should be destroyed. It has to literally be erased from the world, just in case it causes any confusion or upset later down the line.
However, destroying your will is not simply a case of ripping it up and forgetting about it. If you want to destroy a will, you need to do so in such a way that it is obvious you meant to do it. There has to be intention. A scorch mark or a few small rips is not going to make the will invalid, whereas burning the thing entirely, or ripping it into tiny pieces will. And this is also the reason – apart from confusion – that any copies should also be destroyed. If copies remain after the original has been destroyed, it could look as though the destruction was accidental.
If you want to destroy your will but a physical disability (for example) is preventing you from doing so, you will need to find someone else to destroy it on your behalf. However, this must be done in your presence.
Of course, accidents happen, and sometimes wills are destroyed by mistake. In this situation, just because the piece of paper that the will is written on is gone, that doesn’t mean that the intention behind what it used to say has gone with it. It is most likely that you will still want to leave the same items to the same people. You wishes will not have changed. In this case, it is best just to make a new will. It will be identical to the old one, and this is where having copies will be extremely useful!