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What are the roles and responsibilities of an Executor?

Wills / 20 Mar 2019
Alison Johnston
Alison Johnston

One question we often hear when visiting clients is ‘who should be the executor of my estate?’ It’s an important question which everyone should think about when putting together their Will. Being an executor can sometimes be difficult, so picking the right person or persons will ensure that there are no further problems down the line.

What does an executor do?

The most straightforward answer is that executors work out exactly what the deceased person owned and owed at the date of death, obtain a Grant of Probate (if required), gather assets, pay debts and expenses and then distribute following the terms of the Will.

The longer answer is that these duties might include:

  • Finding all of your financial documentation.
  • Sending a copy of the death certificate to all institutions that hold money for you, and making sure that accounts are frozen.
  • Opening a bank account for the estate.
  • Finding out about any money that is owed to you or the estate.
  • Finding out about any money that you owed to others.
  • Collecting in all money, including bank accounts, savings, pensions, investments, insurance policies and anything else that is owed.
  • Making a list of all of your possessions, property and money.
  • Calculating Income Tax, Capital Gains and Inheritance Tax and making those payments.
  • Paying out any other money that is owed, such as bills, loans, credit cards and debts.
  • Deciding the right time to sell your house so that the beneficiaries get as much money as possible.
  • Paying any debts or expenses, such as solicitors’ and probate fees.
  • Distributing the leftover money to the beneficiaries in accordance with your Will.


As you can see it’s a big job to take on and will usually take a number of months.

Who can be an executor?

The basic requirements are that anyone aged 18 or above, who is not bankrupt and has no criminal convictions can be an executor, and there is no rule against beneficiaries being your executors. In fact, many people choose their spouse, civil partner or their children to be their executor.

You don’t have to pick just one; you can appoint up to four executors, but bear in mind they have to act jointly so it may not be practical to appoint too many people. It’s a good idea to choose two executors in case one of them dies before you do. You can also include substitute executors who can step in if other executors are not willing or able to take on the role.

Who would make a good Executor of a Will?

Now the basics of who can be an executor are out the way it’s time to think about who would make a good executor. They will be faced with managing a lot of paperwork and dealing with legal or financial issues, so it makes sense to choose someone who would be able to handle those responsibilities. You can select executors who have different skills, such as one who has legal and financial knowledge, and another who can deal with your beneficiaries and notifying institutions, dividing the workload between them.

But if you do appoint more than one executor, think about whether they will be able to work together to prevent any disagreements, and create grief and conflict within the family.

Before you name your executors make sure you have spoken to them first so that you know they’re happy to take on the responsibility.

Use a family member as executors

If you have a family member who you trust and who have the skills to take on the job, then it’s a good idea to appoint them. It’s very common for people to choose a child, niece or nephew or grandchild to do the job. If you want to name your partner keep in mind that they will be dealing with grief and may not be in the best position to take on the extra responsibility of being an executor. Appointing another family member will take away that burden. You can still appoint them alongside another executor if you would like them to be involved in the process.

Choose a professional to help alongside a family member

Another way to reduce the burden is to appoint a professional such as a solicitor to work alongside a family member. It’s a sensible decision as they have specialist knowledge and are familiar with the job, and can help resolve issues quickly and professionally. This is especially important if you have a complicated estate or property abroad. Another benefit of using a professional is that they can act impartially helping to prevent any conflict between family members.

One important thing to remember is to include executors full names, address and contact details, and keep them up to date so they can be found easily.

What if an executor decides they don’t want to do it?

If an executor decides they aren’t able to deal with the estate themselves, they can ask a solicitor to assist them. Or if they don’t want to take on the role altogether than they can renounce probate, but only if they have not already been involved in the administration. In this situation, either the remaining executors can continue the job, or a substitute executor can step in. If there are no Executors available, then beneficiaries can act as administrators.

Executors are personally liable

You should not forget that taking on the role of executor comes with personal liability. An executor should only hand over estate assets once all debts, expenses and tax have been paid. This involves completing tax returns and making sure all details are correct, if not they will be responsible for paying the bill. There was a recent case where an executor handed over a substantial amount of the estate assets on the assumption the beneficiary would pay the outstanding inheritance tax, which they failed to do. Because of this, the executor was responsible for settling the amount, which was more than £340,000 to HMRC. This is an unusual case, but it does highlight the need to appoint someone or people who you trust and who understand their responsibilities. Appointing a professional would help avoid any conflicts such as this as they will advise your executors correctly.

What if I don’t have anyone who could be an executor?

If you don’t have anyone who could act as an executor, then there is a government official called the Public Trustee who will be your executor. This is situation could arise if your will leaves everything to one person and that person can’t act as an executor – such as a child or an adult with a disability which means they’re incapable of managing financial affairs. However, this is a last resort solution and only available in a unique set of circumstances. The fees for using a Public Trustee will come out of the final estate and could be more than using a solicitor.


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