Best practice when acting as an executor

Francesca Hayward


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September 4, 2023

Categories Private Client Law Updates

Being an executor is an important role and a serious responsibility. Even a simple estate can be more difficult than many people realise and you should ensure that you understand the role and are willing to take on the responsibility before starting to act.

Seeking advice at the outset from an experienced solicitor is the best way to understand exactly what being an executor entails and to help you reduce the chances of anything going wrong along the way.

How to ensure a smooth estate administration process

Good organisation helps things to run smoothly from the outset. You should think about the steps that will be required and ensure that you are prepared for each part of the process. Professionals can help to guide you.
Solicitors know how to run an estate and instructing a solicitor to deal with the day to day administration can relieve a lot of pressure. Involving a solicitor can also be useful for facilitating introductions to other reputable professionals that you may need along the way, such as estate agents, valuers, auctioneers, or tradespeople.

It is important to make sure that you have the correct will and any other relevant legal documents. You should undertake a thorough search of all the person’s paperwork to ensure you are working from the most recent legal documents. In addition, a solicitor can help you to search the records of local solicitors or other companies that may hold original testamentary documents.

Once you have established that you have the correct will, you need to be clear as to its terms and the relevant laws for dealing with the will. Ignorance is not a defence to mistakes made by an executor if they could have sought advice. As such, you could be personally liable if the law is misinterpreted or misapplied.

Communication is key and you should talk openly to others involved in the estate from the outset. This may include co-executors, beneficiaries, or other family members. Being open and honest can help to prevent, or at least minimise, disputes. However, if any dispute does arise it is important that you remain impartial whilst still communicating clearly with all parties. A solicitor can help you to navigate the legal and practical difficulties of an estate dispute.
Keeping a list of all the assets and liabilities from the beginning of the estate administration (and adding to that list as and when you become aware of any additional financial details) will not only mean that you have a clear record of the assets that exist and their values, but it will also allow you to report to the beneficiaries with ease.

You should obtain a professional valuation for any personal items (such as jewellery) as soon as you can. For probate and inheritance tax, it is important that valuations are accurate for the date of death. The sooner a valuation is obtained, the easier it will be for the valuer to accurately assess this. A solicitor can recommend a reputable valuer. Once valued, personal items should be insured and stored safely until they can be passed to the beneficiaries. Again, keeping a list is a useful tool. Once you are ready to pass items on to the beneficiaries, you should do so in person wherever possible. If it is not possible to personally hand over items, you should send them via secure postage or courier. If items are lost and you have not done your utmost to keep them secure, you could find yourself personally liable for the beneficiary’s loss.

As well as small personal items of value, you should also make sure that any property or vehicles are insured and secure so that if any damage occurs you will not be personally liable for this. Property should also be checked regularly by you to ensure that no damage or loss has occurred. It is likely to be a strict term of the insurance policy that the property is checked at regular intervals.

Finally, remember that you may need to be patient. Estate administration often takes longer than you might think, not least of all because you are reliant on other institutions whose timescales are out of your control. It is far more important that you do a thorough and accurate job than it is to have the matter dealt with quickly. Rushing can cause things to be overlooked and, if you have finalised and distributed an estate too soon, you could find yourself facing disappointed creditors or beneficiaries whose money must be paid somehow.

How can we help?

As an executor, it is imperative that you know the rules you must adhere to and that you are able to commit fully to the role. If you are unsure about taking on the role in the first place, or you would like some help dealing with the administration of the estate, our solicitors can help you to ensure that the estate is administered properly and that you are protected from personal liability.

For further information, please contact Francesca Hayward in our Private Client team on 01227 763939.

Please note: This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice.