A complete guide to administering an estate in the UK

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Dealing with the administration of a loved one’s estate can be a daunting task at an already difficult time. Our guide to administering an estate explains the role and responsibilities of an executor. 

What is an executor?

It is the executor’s job to ensure the estate is administered properly after someone has died. The role can be a daunting and time-consuming one, encompassing substantial legal, tax and administrative responsibilities.

Duties include:

  • ensuring immediate funds are available for any dependents
  • compiling a list of the assets and liabilities at the time of a person’s death
  • paying all relevant taxes on behalf of the person that has died
  • collecting in the value of any assets – e.g. selling property 
  • paying any outstanding debts (including funeral and estate administration expenses)
  • distributing the remaining estate among the beneficiaries in accordance with the instructions in the will.

The executor must keep detailed records of what they do throughout the estate administration process as they are accountable to the beneficiaries for the assets of the person who died.

Can you have more than one executor? 

It is possible to have more than one executor, but they must act unanimously in the decisions they make regarding administering the estate. If the executors cannot agree on how best to proceed, the court may become involved and may relieve one or more executor of their duties. 

Does an executor get paid?

A person taking on the role of executor is entitled to claim back reasonable expenses from the estate, such as postage or some travel expenses. However, unless the will includes a specific gift for the executor in acknowledgement of the work to be undertaken, they are not usually able to charge for their efforts. 

In recognition of the onerous task that estate administration can be, the beneficiaries may come to an agreement with the executor which allows them to charge for their time. The court may also authorise such payment in certain circumstances. 

The person who died may have named a professional executor in their will. In such cases a specific fee clause is included in the will which entitles the professional executor to charge for the time spent administering the estate as well as any reasonable out of pocket expenses. 

Can an executor refuse the role?

If you are named as an executor in a will, but do not wish to undertake the role, you can refuse the appointment by signing a renunciation to state that you will not take part in administering the estate. You can also appoint a solicitor to act on your behalf.

What is probate?

The process of distributing someone’s estate after they have died is known as estate administration. An executor will sometimes need to apply to court in order to get permission to undertake estate administration in a process known as ‘probate’. This is usually the case if:

  • any asset is held in the sole name of the person who died,
  • the person who died had over £5,000 of assets with financial institutions, or
  • the deceased benefited from a trust during their lifetime.

The executor will need the original will, along with any codicils to apply for probate. No action should be taken regarding the assets until the ‘grant of probate’ is received. Once received, copies of the grant of probate should be provided to any organisations holding the assets of the person who died, for example their bank, to allow estate administration to take place.

What happens if an executor doesn’t follow a will?

It is the executor’s duty to administer the estate in accordance with the wishes of the person who has died and in line with all legal requirements. If the executor opts not to respect the intentions of the will, beneficiaries are entitled to challenge their actions, which they should do in writing. If the beneficiary remains unsatisfied with the executor’s conduct, they can make an application to court to remove them from acting as executor. However, serious wrongdoing will need to be proved in order for the court to consider removing an executor. The most frequent examples of misconduct involve the executor failing to remain impartial and instead acting for their own benefit; and failure to adequately account to the beneficiaries of an estate.

Do you need help with administrating an estate? 

We have extensive experience in advising on estate administration and associated disputes. We can help you with:

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