The Key Duties of An Executor

Chances are you’re reading this guide because you’ve been named executor of someone’s last will and testament or thinking who to allocate the role of will executor. We understand that this can be overwhelming, especially if you don’t know where to start. So let us break it down for you.  

 

What is an executor? 

An executor is a person who has been nominated to carry out a deceased person’s last will and testament, as well as taking care of their financial affairs and distributing their estate.  

Most people choose a close family member like a spouse or their children to be their executor, but many also nominate a close friend or opt to go with a professional. We always suggest nominating all children to not favour one over the other unless there is a reason not to.  

We’ve put together this step-by-step guide to support you through your duties as executor. The guide includes helpful tips, links and resources from experts at each step of the way.  

 

The 10 Key Duties of an Executor 

1. Registering the death 

Your very first task as executor will be to register the death of the person who has died. Here’s a detailed guide on how to register a death in the UK: Who Can Register A Death and What You’ll Need To Know To Do It.

You will also have to obtain a death certificate as well as several copies. Here’s a guide from GOV.UK on ordering death certificates in England and Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland:

 

How many copies of the death certificate will I need?  

This depends on how complex the estate you are dealing with is. When you are finished reading this guide make a list of all the institutions you will need to send a copy of the death certificate. Most people require between 5-20 copies.  

 

2. Arranging the funeral

We understand how overwhelming arranging a funeral can be, especially since it will be an emotional time for you and the family. According to funeral planners, families make up to 88 decisions when arranging a loved one’s funeral. Family conflicts also tend to arise during this time, especially when it comes to funeral costs.  

As executor, your top priority is to ensure that the wishes and voice of the person who has died are heard and fulfilled to the best of your abilities. Essentially, you will be acting as their voice and working with the family. Funeral wishes are deeply personal, and a funeral is a wonderful way to celebrate the deceased’s life and legacy. Here are some options that can make it stress-free and simple, while also ensuring that you are fulfilling the wishes of your loved one.

  • Read the will to learn if the deceased had outlined their funeral wishes. 
  • Find out if the person who died has a prepaid funeral plan.

If the person who died has a funeral plan with Legacy of Lives you will be able to access all of their funeral wishes in one convenient place. Their Legacy of Lives funeral plan will contain all detailed funeral wishes such as: 

  • Burial or cremation 

  • Type of burial or cremation (Eg., Religious, water cremation or eco-funeral) 

  • Decor and favourite flowers 

  • Music including specific songs 

  • Where to scatter ashes  

  • Venue  

  • Order of service 

  • Dress choice  

  • Contribution to charitable organisation  

You would also be able to access their pre-paid funeral plan with one of Legacy of Lives’ funeral service partners in the UK.  

 

If the funeral has not been paid for ​​

  • Take the invoice for the funeral to the deceased’s bank or building society with the death certificate, the will, and your identification as executor.  

  • They may give you a cheque for the amount payable to the funeral director or pay the funeral director directly.  

 

3.  Finding and getting copies of the will  

As executor you will need copies of the will to know details of how your loved one wanted their estate to be distributed. If you did not already have access to their will or know where their will is kept, you will need to find it via the National Will Register or Probate Registry. 

  • Search for a will here 

  • You can also try the Probate Registry

  • Don’t tamper with the original will and remember to make copies for yourself, co-executors and beneficiaries.  

  • Keep the original in a safe place. 

  • If the person who has died had a funeral plan with Legacy of Lives, their will can be found in their vault along with other important documents.  

 

4. Taking responsability for property and post

You will be in charge of stopping the deceased’s postal deliveries. Contact the Bereavement Register, It’s a free service and the names and addresses of the person who has died are removed from mailing lists, stopping most advertising mail within as little as six weeks.

Taking responsibility for the deceased’s property is an important duty that ensures that the property is secured and that the insurance for the property is up to date. You will need to inform the insurers of the property owner’s death, and if the existing insurance policy doesn’t cover an empty property you will also have to arrange a new home insurance policy.  

 

5. Valuing the estate

Part of your duties as executor will be to value the estate of the person who has died. This includes: Property, land, cash, bank accounts, cars, caravans or boats, stocks and shares, jewellery, art & collectibles, foreign assets, and debt such as mortgages, credit cards and equity release.

  • Keep in mind that this also includes assets jointly held with others as well as gifts given by the person who died.  

  • It is highly recommended by HMRC that property, land and any assets worth more than £500 are valued professionally.  

The first thing you should do is find out if the estate must pay Inheritance Tax. Then, value the estate and report its value. Find a detailed guide on how to do this here.

 

6. Paying Inheritance Tax

After you have valued the estate and reported its value you will find out if you need to pay inheritance tax on the estate. Here are some key things to know about paying inheritance tax in the UK: 

  • If the estate is worth less than £325,000 no tax is owed. 

  • If the estate is worth more than £325,000 the inheritance tax will be charged at 40% on anything above this threshold. So if the estate is valued at £400,000 the inheritance tax charged will be 40% of £75,000. 

  • If a house is left to the children or grandchildren of the deceased, the tax-free allowance on its value increases to £475,000.

  • There is no inheritance tax to pay on estates left to a spouse, civil partner or charity.

  • Download inheritance tax forms here.

  • You will need an inheritance tax reference number at least 3 weeks before you make a payment. Get it here.

How do I pay the inheritance tax? 

The bank or building society of the person who died may release money to pay inheritance tax without requiring a loan arrangement. Another option is arranging an executor’s loan from a bank to pay the inheritance tax.  

 

7. Sorting out finances

As executor you will also be in charge of sorting out all the finances of the person who has died. This includes their banking services, salary, pension, investments or state benefits.

  • You will need to send copies of the death certificate to the banks, building societies and insurance companies. 

  • You will need to cancel any direct debits going out of the deceased person’s accounts. 

  • You will need to stop salary, pension and benefits payments to the person who has died. 

  • You will also need to settle any debt, outstanding tax and bills.

 

8. Dealing with assets

Other assets that you may not have dealt with yet can include joint accounts, jointly owned property, pension schemes, life insurance policies, and debts. You must send copies of the death certificate to all the above financial institutions, if the person who died had assets controlled by them. 

  • In the event of the death of one account holder, the joint account automatically transfers to the surviving account holder.  

  • If the person who died jointly owned property as “beneficial joint tenants” then their share of the property automatically transfers to the surviving joint owner. 

  • If they have a pension plan, contact their pension provider. You can ask them if death benefits are available and whether there is a pension set up for the surviving spouse and children.  

  • Contact their life insurance provider as soon as possible and organise the pay out. Money will have to be paid out to a beneficiary, or if not, the money will be added to the value of the estate. 

  • Debts owed to the person who has died will need to be collected. 

 

9. Applying for probate

What exactly is probate? Probate is a legal document that gives the executor authority to administer the estate.  

  • You may not need to apply for probate if the estate is valued at less than £5,000 in England and Wales, or less than £10,000 in Northern Ireland. You can write to the deceased person’s bank or building society to confirm. 

  • You must pay any owed inheritance tax before applying for probate. 

  • You can apply for probate online here.

  •  You will need a copy of the Grant of Probate for each asset holder that you will be dealing with during your executorship.  

 

10. Distributing the estate

After valuing the estate, paying inheritance tax, applying for probate and clearing debts you can start distributing the estate to the beneficiaries. In the will, personal property will be bequeathed to specific people and it will be your job to make sure the right gifts go to the right people. 

  • It is advised to wait 10 months from the time probate is granted in case claims are made against the estate/will. 

  • For beneficiaries under 18 you will need to ensure there are at least two trustees. 

  • Get each beneficiary to sign a receipt for the gifts they receive as this will be proof of distribution.  

  • Beneficiaries who are bankrupt may not be able to receive their inheritance from the estate. 

  • Draw up estate accounts for each beneficiary. 

  • Each beneficiary should fill out a R185 tax form for their share of the estate income.

 
Useful Resources for Executors 

What To Do When Someone Dies: Step By Step - A Government Resource 

Tell Us Once - Allows you to inform several government departments about a person’s death at once – such as the housing department, the DVLA and HMRC. 
 

Death Notification Service - A free service that allows you to notify a number of financial organisations of a person’s death at the same time – from banks to home and motor insurance companies.  

 

The Importance of Pre-Planning Funeral & End of Life Wishes 

Your top priority as executor is to ensure that you fulfil the deceased’s end-of-life wishes to the best of your abilities. This can be very difficult if you don’t have enough information about what they wanted. Often, executors end up rifling through stacks of paperwork and having to make difficult decisions even while dealing with grief and bereavement at the same time. According to experts it can take between 8-12 months for an executor in the UK to settle an estate. Read full article here.

 

Helping Your Executor 

Are you currently in the process of writing your will and choosing an executor? While you may trust your executor to make the right decisions on your behalf, it is also important that you make your voice and choices known so that they are able to fulfil your wishes after you die. If you do not clearly state certain wishes (for example, if you would like to be buried rather than cremated) then someone else will have to make that decision for you and it may not be what you want. Your choices and autonomy are of the utmost importance, even after you die.  

We encourage you to take charge of your funeral and end-of-life wishes by getting started on our free funeral planning tool. Take out the guesswork and log all of your funeral wishes, save important documents, photographs and more in a few easy clicks.  

74% of UK adults haven’t had conversations with their loved ones about their end-of-life wishes and 29% aren’t aware of the responsibilities of being an executor. Read full article here.

Legacy of Lives is working towards removing the taboo that comes with talking about death and dying. We hope you found this article helpful and we encourage you to have a chat with your loved ones about your end-of-life wishes.  

 

Here are some articles we think you’ll like: 

Am I Too Young To Plan My Funeral? 

Talking About Death - How To Get Started 

How To Plan A Funeral 

10 Reason You Should Write A Will 

What Important Documents Should I Include in My Legacy of Life Funeral Plan?