You are legally responsible for the assets of a deceased person if you are appointed the executor of their estate, and there is a legal will. There may be other executors of course, including the solicitor who drafted the will, and the late person’s spouse or trusted confidante.
Solicitors may charge for their services. However other executors may only recover their reasonable expenses from the estate. Where there is more than one executor they have to agree about everything beforehand. Cash and personal items are the only exception, although it is always best to act transparently as a team
An Executor Can Also be a Beneficiary Under the Same Will
This is quite common in the UK; indeed many testators make their primary / only beneficiary their executor to make things easier for them. If you are a sole executor, we none the less suggest you behave as if somebody is looking over your shoulder and keep a diary of your decisions and actions.
More About Your Duties and Powers as an Executor
You have both duties to do things, and powers to do these things lawfully. Your primary duty is to secure the estate’s assets so you can distribute them to the beneficiaries according to the will.
YOUR MAIN POWERS AS AN EXECUTOR
You can’t act legally without an authority as an executor. The will should specify your powers. These could, just by way of an example include running their business. In broader terms, you must act “in the interests of all the beneficiaries, without favouring one over another” according to Richard Nelson LLP.
YOUR PRIMARY DUTIES AS AN EXECUTOR
You may also find yourself responsible for arranging the funeral. If you don’t want to do this, a close family member or friend may be willing to take this off your shoulders. You could also appoint a funeral director because the estate will pay their reasonable bill.
You must also be able to, and provide an account of all transactions to the beneficiaries and the court. This is more than sufficient reason to act diligently at all times. You also have to act with a dose of speed and wrap things up within a year. That’s because beneficiaries may claim interest on amounts owing to them after twelve months.
Does This Mean Your Decisions are Final?
Of course not! There is a system of appeals built into UK law. If a beneficiary under the will believes you are not behaving properly, then they can take legal steps to make your change your mind, or remove you from your role completely.
This is yet another reason to act openly, explain yourself, and keep a thorough record of your decisions and actions. This is because you may be held financially responsible for your errors and oversights.
By now, you may be looking forward to being ‘off the hook’ once you have wound up the estate. However, if the deceased has established a trust you may be responsible for administering this until it ceases, or you are no longer able to do so.
Therefore, You Should Think Twice before Accepting an Executorship
When someone asks you to be their executor this does not mean you are a beneficiary of their estate. You also have no right to know the contents of their will until after they die.
It may therefore make more sense to suggest the person appoints their solicitor as their primary executor, and you as their backup. You will still have to approve all the decisions, without having to do much of the actual work.