05 March 2013
What do I need to do as an executor?
Mrs A has been named as executor of the estate for her elderly uncle, who recently passed away. She asks if she needs to instruct a solicitor to help with probate and estate administration. Craig Williams, partner in the wills, trusts and probate team, replies.
Q. My uncle appointed me as his executor, but I’m not sure if it’s something I can do on my own?
A. Being the executor to a will can be both time-consuming and complex and, if it was someone close to you, it can be difficult dealing with the emotions as well as the practicalities which need to be followed. Sometimes you can also find yourself at the centre of family disputes, which adds to the pressure.
You don’t have to do it all on your own though and appointing a solicitor can help make the process easier for a number of reasons. Quite simply, you may not have time or your location may make it difficult to administer the estate yourself, and there may be added complications such as interests overseas or family trusts.
If the estate is valuable and inheritance tax is likely to be payable, it can be a mistake to try and deal with it on your own. Most people who try to do so find they have vastly underestimated the amount of time and work involved.
As executor, you will need to:
- identify all your uncle’s financial affairs and work out how to deal with them
- value the estate
- complete the appropriate inheritance tax forms and deal with any inheritance tax liability
- deal with any income tax liability, both during your uncle's lifetime and during the administration of the estate
- obtain the grant of probate allowing you to deal with the estate
- collect up all the assets and where appropriate arrange their sale
- pay off any debts owed
- distribute the estate in accordance with the terms of the will
If that sounds like a long list, it is. For the novice executor, it can be easy to get things wrong, such as not keeping clear records, taking things on trust from relatives or being put under pressure to distribute money too early.
There can also be other complications or difficulties in understanding the meaning of the will, how the law applies and exactly what different beneficiaries are entitled to. For example, if your uncle has named a beneficiary who has since died; or perhaps an asset is mentioned as a gift in the will, but has been sold at some earlier stage in your uncle’s life.
These are all reasons why seeking professional advice is a good idea and if you appoint a solicitor who specialises in wills, trusts and probate to work alongside you, this can make a big difference to easing the burden.
A specialist solicitor in this area will have the necessary skills and experience to deal with any problems and can hold funds on behalf of the estate in their client account. There is often a misconception that solicitor's will charge a vast amount for administering an estate including a percentage of the value of the estate.
These days this is rarely the case and solicitors are happy to discuss a number of fee arrangements, including fixed fees or perhaps dividing the work between them and the executor to keep costs to a minimum.
This advice is written in general terms only and should not be relied upon in individual cases where specific legal advice will be required. The writers accept no liability for any direct or indirect loss arising from any reliance placed on replies.