Your executors, as the persons nominated to manage your estate after you die and clear out any skeletons in your closet (both literal and proverbial), need to be people you can rely on.
It is one of the most important decisions to make when preparing your will and should be given careful consideration.
What does an executor do?
The role essentially means “stepping into the shoes” of the testator.
It involves being responsible for carrying out funeral wishes, settling any debts and expenses as well as accounting to HMRC for any Inheritance Tax due on your estate. They will also be responsible for collecting in your assets and distributing your estate in accordance with your wishes.
Executors have a legal obligation to administer the estate in the best interests of the beneficiaries and, if any mistakes are made, they can be held accountable.
Who to appoint?
Such a responsibility shouldn’t come as a shock to whoever you have nominated, so make sure you discuss the appointment with them before completing your will. Even administering a fairly modest estate can be a thankless and onerous task, and you might want to consider making a gift to them if they are not otherwise benefiting under the will.
You can appoint up to four people but should appoint at least two to ensure someone can fulfil the role in case one of them is unable to act (for reasons of being out of the country or having predeceased) or is simply unwilling. At the time of your death, they must be over the age of 18 and have sufficient mental capacity.
Ideally, they should be fairly organised, trustworthy and reliable. They should know each other and, crucially, be able to work together.
Executors must make decisions about the distribution of your estate together and disagreements can cause unnecessary delays and expenses.
They should also be likely to outlive you as, if they don’t, the appointment is determined by reference to the Non-Contentious Probate Rules and can cause unnecessary complications.
Though they are two separate and distinct roles, your executors will likely also act as trustees for any trusts in your will. Even if there are no trust structures in place, if one of the beneficiaries is under 18 then your trustees will hold that beneficiary’s share on trust for them and will have statutory powers to make decisions about how to best manage the assets.
When in doubt, leave it to the professionals
If you are concerned that your executors might disagree or find the administrative role too overwhelming (as grieving individuals often do), it may be best to appoint a solicitor or an accountant to act as a co-executor, or even leave it to the professionals entirely.
As someone outside the family, a professional executor might be better placed to make objective decisions about what is best for the beneficiaries.
They will also have the necessary expertise to deal with complex estates. A professional will charge for their time spent, although a lay executor will usually instruct a solicitor anyway to assist them in the administration, so the overall cost to the estate is likely to be similar.
If you are unsure about who is best to act as your executor or would like advice about how to plan for the future and the management of your affairs, our expert team is always on hand to guide you.
How we can help
Our private client team work with families and individuals, advising on all aspects of private client law, including wills, estate planning, estate administration, trusts and powers of attorney and are well placed to advise you if you have any questions about the topics mentioned in this article.