Should you be the executor of your parent’s will? Things to consider

Reviewed by James Badcock

“How would you feel about being the executor of my will?” If you’ve been asked that question by your parent or relative, or have found out you’ve been named executor without having been asked, you should make sure you know what this means.

Being asked to be the executor of someone’s will might sound like an honour, but, before accepting, you would be wise to fully understand what the role involves. It’s probably a lot more than you think.

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Executing a will can take months, and occasionally years, and you’ll need to be comfortable dealing with banks, bureaucracy and beneficiaries during the process. You’ll also need to keep accounts as well as be prepared to be answerable for everything you do that’s connected to the will, the deceased’s property and their belongings. It can turn out to be a time-consuming and complicated job.

When you’re considering being the executor of your parent’s will and you’re not an only child, add sibling stress to the list of things you’ll have to deal with. No matter how well you get on with your closest family members, there’s almost always some disagreement. The more valuable the estate being shared, the more likely it is that arguments will occur. They shouldn’t, but they do.

So, what exactly is an executor?

An executor of a will, in simple terms, is the person chosen by the will testator (the creator of the will) who is designated and is named in the will to deal with the testator’s affairs after their death.

Most people discuss naming an executor in their will with the person concerned before they name them, but not always. If you’ve been named as an executor without your knowledge, or your circumstances have changed since you agreed to take the role, you don’t have to do it. But you must complete a Deed of Renunciation before anyone else can begin to administer the deceased person’s affairs. More on this later.

What does being the executor of a will involve?

In a nutshell, being the executor of someone’s will means you are responsible for identifying and securing the deceased’s assets, paying any tax and other liabilities that are due out of the estate, and ensuring their estate is distributed in accordance with their wishes. Executing a will involves a fair amount of form filling and several administrative steps and procedures.

There are certain procedures that need to be completed before you can begin to execute a will. The most important is to ensure that the person’s death has been correctly registered and a death certificate has been issued.

Obtaining a death certificate

To obtain a death certificate a person’s death must be registered with the Registry Office in the area where they lived within five days of their death. This can only be done by a family member, someone who was present at the death or by a hospital administrator if the person died in hospital. You can find their local Registry Office by typing in their postcode on the Gov.uk website.

It’s a good idea to order several authenticated copies of the death certificate from the Registry Office because, as executor of the will, you’ll need to send or present the certificate to different organisations. There will be a charge of £11 for each copy which you’ll later be able to claim as expenses from the estate.

Applying for probate

A Grant of Probate is a legal document that proves the person named as executor in a will has the authority to proceed with executing the will.

As executor of a will you will need to apply for probate if the deceased person’s estate includes property or large amounts of money. You can apply for probate online via Gov.uk. It can take anywhere from five to sixteen weeks for the Grant of Probate to be issued. The application fee is £273.

When the deceased person’s estate doesn’t include property or large amounts of money you might not need to apply for probate. Many financial organisations, but not all, will now deal with an executor of a will without probate if the monies held by them are less than £25,000. Any bank or building society will inform you, as the executor, whether you will need probate or not when you first approach them.

Letting people know

This is where your best organisational skills will be put to the test. Realising just how many different authorities and companies you are going to have to deal with can be mind boggling. Here are the main ones, but you may find there are even more than these.

Banks and building societies – As executor of a will you’ll be expected to contact any bank the deceased had dealings with. You may need to do this in person and present both the death certificate and probate, if required, to be able to do it. You will also need to open a special ‘estate account’ to hold all money from the closed accounts and any refunds that may be paid back to the estate.

The funds in the estate account, unless other provisions have been made, can be used to pay funeral costs or any outstanding bills as long as you keep a strict record of all expenditure.

Credit cards – You’ll need to make sure that any credit card held by the deceased is cancelled and any outstanding amounts are paid in full.

Insurance companies – You’ll need to make sure any insurance company that the deceased held a policy with is informed of their death. Any payments received from insurance companies must be paid into the estate account and later distributed as part of the estate.

Government organisations – In recent years informing government organisations of someone’s death has been made easier by the introduction of the Tell Us Once Service. Using the Tell Us Once online system allows you to inform multiple government departments of a person’s death at the same time and they are:

  • DVLA – who will cancel the deceased person’s driving licence and car tax
  • Passport Office – who will cancel a person’s passport
  • Local council – who will proceed to cancel council tax payments, housing benefits if applicable, a Blue Badge if held and remove the person’s name from the electoral roll.
  • HM Revenue and Customs – who will deal with the deceased’s outstanding tax matters
  • Department of Works and Pensions – who will stop pension payments and any relevant benefits that were received by the deceased.

Others – Don’t think you’ll be anywhere near finished after you’ve done all of the above. You won’t be. If they were living in their own home, you’ll also need to contact any or all of the following and possibly more besides:

  • Electricity supplier
  • Gas supplier
  • Water supplier
  • Car insurance company
  • House clearance company
  • Estate agent if there’s a property to be sold
  • Housing association or landlord if the property is rented

Distributing assets

As executor of a will you’ll also be responsible for paying any debts that are outstanding. This could include inheritance tax if the value of the estate is estimated to be over the value of £325,000.

Once everything has been finalised then you’ll be responsible for distributing what has been bequeathed to each of the beneficiaries.

If doing all of the above sounds way too complicated, and it can be, you can always engage professionals such as a solicitor to administer the estate according to your instructions. They don’t work free of charge unfortunately and their bills can work out to be quite hefty. If you don’t want to spend the estate money on solicitors, you’ll be able to get some free advice from the Citizens Advice Bureau or a specialist advisor from Age UK. .  However, if administering the estate is going to place a significant burden on your time, and the value of the estate justifies it, then you are entitled to use money in the estate to pay for assistance.

Other things to consider

If executing a will is starting to sound like a full-time job, well, it can be. When you work or have your own family to care for, it can put you under a serious amount of stress. When you do a nine to five job, or work odd shift hours, communicating with companies or local authorities can start to become a nightmare. All of this would also be further magnified if you yourself don’t live in the UK or live far away from where your parent lives.

Add to that having to communicate with the beneficiaries when they ask questions, which they are within their rights to do, and your life might not seem like it’s your own anymore, especially if you’re also grappling with the weight of grief. And if you accept, you’ll be busy for months because that is, sadly, how long it takes.

You may also not be the only executor named on the will which means you’ll have to communicate with someone else about everything you do during the entire process. That can be even more time consuming and also frustrating if you don’t agree on something.

Preparing ahead for the role

If you are lucky, your parents will have organised their important paperwork and have everything filed neatly away altogether in a drawer or storage box somewhere in the house. And if you’re really lucky, they will have prepared a document for you listing all the important information and instructions for end of life that are not covered in a will (such as the location of critical documents, account numbers, people to call, codes for computer/phone passwords etc). Unfortunately, not all of us are so lucky.

While it’s not the easiest of conversations to have with your parent, it’s a wise idea to ask them if they’ve organised their important paperwork and where it is all kept. If they haven’t, then suggest that it’s a good idea to find a morning to do it, as it’ll be easier for you as executor to sort things out when the time comes. 

If they have investments or property and are finding it difficult to get organised, they may benefit from professional help. There’s a directory of inheritance and succession experts on STEP that may prove to be useful if that’s the case.

While it can be helpful to see the contents of your parent’s will ahead of time, being made an executor does not oblige them to show you the will or discuss its contents with you while they are still alive.

Rejecting the role of executor

If your parent or relative asks you to be executor of their will but – after learning what’s involved – you don’t want to do it, you are perfectly within your rights to say no.

When turning down the role, it’s helpful to communicate your reasons sensitively and respectfully, whether they are to do with personal limitations, relationship dynamics or conflicts of interest, and to suggest alternative executors. For example, you could say something like, “I appreciate you considering me for such an important role, but I’m concerned that I might not have the expertise needed to handle all the legal and financial responsibilities that come with being an executor. I want to make sure your wishes are carried out properly, so perhaps we can explore other options together, like seeking advice from a professional executor or finding someone else who can fulfill this role more effectively.

If your parent or relative has died and you have been named as executor in their will but you decide not to take on the role, you can download a deed of renunciation form from Gov.uk. You should complete it, sign it and have it witnessed before giving it to the person who will be taking your place as executor. If you don’t, you’ll still be legally responsible for anything that goes wrong, like money that’s unaccounted for, even though you haven’t acted as executor. It’s a good idea to keep a copy as proof you’ve done it should any problems arise.

In summary

Now you’re aware of just what’s involved with executing a will you’ll be able to make a better decision about whether you want to be the executor of one or not. If you say yes, make sure you’re fully prepared for the workload you’ll be taking on and get professional advice if you need it. If you’ve been named as an executor but can’t or don’t want to do it, make sure you complete a Deed of Renunciation and have it witnessed. Being the executor of a will is a difficult, tedious task and one that should only be taken on by someone who’s capable and fully committed to doing it.

Common questions

  • Is it better to have a solicitor as executor of a will?

If the will is complex and involves a lot of investments, property or money then it may be wise to have a solicitor as the executor of the will.

  • What powers does an executor of a will have?

An executor of a will has the power to deal with the financial affairs and personal belongings of the will creator (the testator)

  • Does an executor of a will get paid in the UK?

No, an executor does not get paid, but they are able to offset reasonable expenses against the estate holdings. A testator can leave a gift to an executor to thank them for taking on the responsibility, and most wills provide that professional executors are entitled to charge for their time and expenses.

  • Can an executor take money from the estate?

An executor can only take money from the estate if it’s to pay for something such as bills or expenses relevant to the estate. An executor who is also a beneficiary of the will, is entitled to receive what has been left to them under the terms of the will.

  • What are some of the challenges of being a joint executor vs sole executor?

If you’re a joint executor you will need to agree everything you do with the other executor. A sole executor can make independent decisions as long as they are for the benefit of the estate.

  • Are there any benefits to being the executor of my parent’s will?

The only benefit is being in control of your deceased parent’s affairs and having an absolute right to visibility of their assets and how the estate is being administered.  With some family situations this may be attractive, but you do need to be aware of potential conflicts of interest.

  • How much does it cost to hire a solicitor to help with probate?

Solicitors charge a percentage of the estimated value of the deceased estate to assist with probate. The percentage varies between 2% and 5%. If the estate is valuable this can work out to be tens of thousands of pounds. If you can find a solicitor willing to do probate for a fixed fee (a few will) then it can cost anywhere from £500 to £1500.

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