Inheritance and Executors

Have you been made an executor by the deceased? 

The executors named in a will act as the deceased’s personal representatives. They are responsible for collecting up all the deceased’s money and other assets, calculating the value of the estate, paying debts and taxes, distributing the estate between the people entitled to it in the will, and carrying out any other requests mentioned in the will.  The grant of probate gives the executors the legal authority to carry out their duties. Executors can apply for the grant of probate in person or through a solicitor.

Executors are not personally liable for the deceased’s debts. But if they breach their legal duties, resulting in losses for beneficiaries or creditors, they will be personally liable for those losses. Examples of such breaches include paying legacies before debts are paid to creditors; failing to collect all debts due to the estate; selling assets for less than their real value; or acting carelessly so that assets are lost.

Because of the risk, many executors prefer to engage a solicitor to act for them. Unlike trustees, who can retire, executors remain responsible for carrying out their duties for life. In extreme cases, when they die their executor duties can pass down to their own executors.

When a person dies an executor needs to do the following

  • The first thing to do is to register the death. The district probate registry, and banks and building societies where accounts are held, will each need to see an original death certificate (not a photocopy). You can avoid delays by getting several certificates.

  • The second thing is to find the will. If there appears to be no will, apply to the district probate registry for letters of administration. If there is a will, check it for requests about funeral arrangements and the names of other executors. Establish how the funeral expenses will be paid. 

  • Third important thing to do is to collect information about assets. You have to write for valuations of a house or other property to bank, building societies, insurance companies, National Savings stockbrokers and investment houses. Also collect details of any liabilities such as a mortgage and other debts.  

  • Next, draw up a rough balance sheet to assess the value of the estate. This determines whether you need probate and whether inheritance tax (IHT) is likely to be payable. Complete an IHT return and arrange for a payment of any IHT dues. It can be paid directly from the deceased’s bank account if the bank belongs to the Inheritance Tax direct Payments Scheme. IHT has to be paid within six months of death, or interest will be charged. But payment can be delayed for certain assets that are not to be sold, such as land, private businesses and unquoted shares. It can be paid after probate in ten annual installments with interest.

After the grant of probate

  • Collect the estate’s assets, open a bank account for the estate, and where required put the deceased’s home and any other property that is to be sold on the market. Complete the tax returns for the deceased and pay any tax due. Pay the estate’s debts, including household debts, professional fees and any outstanding mortgage. It is advisable to advertise for the creditors of the deceased in newspapers, giving at least two months for creditors to make claims.  

  • Prepare the final estate accounts. For this you will need a tally of assets valued at the date of death and another on the date they were paid out or realised. If the second count is lower you may be entitled to claim a refund from the Inland Revenue; if it is higher you may have to arrange for more IHT to be paid.  

  • Pay legacies and distribute the residue to beneficiaries. Ask for receipts. If ownership of a property is to be transferred you should contact the Land Registry and ask for form AS1.

Unlock this article now!


For more information on:

  • Gathering a small estate’s assets
  • An executor’s right to resign
  • Examples
  • Bank charges a high fee
  • Beneficiary’s immediate demand