Ex­ecut­or of Will: Duties

A Woman taking notes
Catrin, UK Solicitor
29/02/2024 ● 3 minutes
Taking on the role of an ex­ecut­or means step­ping up to manage someone’s estate after they’ve passed away. But what is an ex­ecut­or of a will? This guide breaks down what the role in­volves to make sure everything is handled smoothly.

Being named as the ex­ecut­or of a Will puts you in charge of man­aging a de­ceased person's af­fairs.

The re­spons­ib­il­it­ies of the ex­ecut­or of a Will range from filing the Will with the court to dis­trib­uting assets to the right people or or­gan­isa­tions ac­cording to the Will. It's a big re­spons­ib­il­ity, there’s no doubt about it.

Whet­h­er you're plan­ning your estate or have been ap­poin­ted as an ex­ecut­or, un­der­stand­ing this role is the first step toward ful­filling your re­spons­ib­il­it­ies with con­fid­ence.

What Does the Ex­ecut­or of a Will Do?

Being an ex­ecut­or of a Will means you're the person re­spons­ible for making sure everything someone wanted to happen after they die, ac­tu­ally hap­pens.

You're in charge from start to finish, which means you can't con­sider the job done until every last piece of the estate has been taken care of.

This in­cludes paying off any debts and making sure the people named in the Will get what was left to them. It’s a big task that re­quires pa­tience, or­gan­isa­tion, and a good deal of re­spons­ib­il­ity.

Main Re­spons­ib­il­it­ies of the Ex­ecut­or of a Will

The duties of an estate ex­ecut­or can vary de­pend­ing on the com­plex­ity of the estate and the wishes out­lined in the Will.

Here's an over­view of the core re­spons­ib­il­it­ies:

  1. Locate and Un­der­stand the Will: Find­ing the Will is step one. Un­der­stand­ing its con­tents and the de­ceased’s wishes is step two. You might need to run a few things by a so­li­citor to in­ter­pret any com­plex clauses or in­struc­tions.
  2. Value the Estate: The next step is for the Will and test­a­ment ex­ecut­or to work out an ap­prox­im­ate value of the de­ceased’s estate and work out if any In­her­it­ance Tax is due.
  3. Apply for Pro­bate: The ex­ecut­or must then apply for pro­bate, either online or via post. This is the step that of­fi­cially starts the pro­bate pro­cess, the legal pro­ced­ure to dis­tribute the estate.
  4. Manage the Estate's Assets: Ex­ecut­ors of Wills must pro­tect the de­ceased’s assets during the pro­bate pro­cess. This might in­volve se­cur­ing prop­erty and valu­ables, as well as con­tinu­ing to pay mort­gages or other bills to main­tain the estate's value.
  5. Pay Debts and Taxes: The ex­ecut­or must pay all the de­ceased's debts and taxes before dis­trib­uting any assets to be­ne­fi­ciar­ies. This could in­clude everything from credit card bills to final income taxes.
  6. Dis­tribute Assets to Be­ne­fi­ciar­ies: After debts and taxes are settled, the ex­ecut­or can dis­tribute the re­main­ing assets to the be­ne­fi­ciar­ies as out­lined in the Will. This pro­cess must be done care­fully and in ac­cord­ance with the testator's wishes.
  7. Main­tain Com­mu­nic­a­tion with Be­ne­fi­ciar­ies: Throughout the pro­cess, the ex­ecut­or should keep open lines of com­mu­nic­a­tion with the be­ne­fi­ciar­ies, shar­ing up­dates with them and ad­dress­ing any ques­tions or con­cerns.
  8. Close the Estate: Fi­nally, after paying all debts, set­tling taxes, and dis­trib­uting assets, the ex­ecut­or must form­ally close the estate.

Read more: How Can you Find a Will in the UK?

What Powers Does an Ex­ecut­or of a Will Have in the UK?

As an ex­ecut­or, you have the power to manage the de­ceased's estate in order to carry out your ex­ecut­or of will duties. These duties in­clude selling prop­erty, paying bills, and dis­trib­uting assets. So, if you’re won­der­ing “does an ex­ecut­or of a will have to sign any­thing?” the answer is yes.

Your powers as an ex­ecut­or do have limits, though.

You must follow the Will's in­struc­tions and the law, and you can't be­ne­fit or re­ceive pay­ment from your role unless the Will spe­cific­ally allows it.

Ex­ecut­ors are leg­ally re­quired to pri­or­it­ise the be­ne­fi­ciar­ies' in­terests over their own. Ex­ecut­ors also need to adhere to legal timelines for tasks such as filing the Will with the pro­bate court and dis­trib­uting assets to be­ne­fi­ciar­ies.

💡 Did you know that writ­ing a Will can bring tax be­ne­fits to your heirs.

Ex­ecut­or of a Will being also Be­ne­fi­ciary?

In the con­text of estate plan­ning, it's im­port­ant to note that an ex­ecut­or of a Will can also be a be­ne­fi­ciary under the same Will.

This means the person re­spons­ible for ad­min­is­ter­ing the estate, en­sur­ing all debts are paid and the re­main­ing assets are dis­trib­uted ac­cording to the Will's in­struc­tions, can also be en­titled to re­ceive a por­tion of the estate as out­lined in the Will.

This ar­range­ment is quite common and leg­ally per­miss­ible, al­low­ing for a stream­lined pro­cess where the ex­ecut­or has a per­son­al in­terest in en­sur­ing the estate is man­aged ef­fi­ciently and in ac­cord­ance with the de­ceased's wishes.

Choos­ing the Right Ex­ecut­or for a Will

Pick­ing the right ex­ecut­or for a Will is cru­cial. Look for someone re­spons­ible, trust­worthy, and ideally, with some fin­an­cial or legal know­ledge.

It helps if they're geo­graph­ic­ally close to you so that they can handle tasks more ef­fi­ciently. It’s also worth con­sid­er­ing their re­la­tion­ship to the be­ne­fi­ciar­ies to avoid con­flicts.

Ensure the person (or people) you choose are 18 or over, have full mental ca­pa­city, and, im­port­antly, are will­ing to take on the role.

You have the option to ap­point mul­tiple people to manage your estate, al­low­ing them to work to­geth­er as joint ex­ecut­ors of a Will. However, while you can choose any number of ex­ecut­ors, only a max­imum of four can apply for the grant of pro­bate. For this reason, it’s best to limit the number of ex­ecut­ors you ap­point.

The Role of the Ex­ecut­or

Step­ping into the role of an ex­ecut­or of a Will is a sig­ni­fic­ant re­spons­ib­il­ity, but it's also a deeply mean­ing­ful way to honour the wishes of a loved one.

With care­ful plan­ning, a clear un­der­stand­ing of the duties in­volved, and per­haps some pro­fes­sion­al guid­ance, you can fulfil this role ef­fect­ively to ensure that the de­ceased’s be­ne­fi­ciar­ies are cared for.

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