Becoming an executor of a deceased estate may at first sight seem quite straightforward. All we need do is get permission from the government, pay estate duty if any, settle the cards and the mortgage, and share what’s left of the estate between the heirs. To expand further:
- If the late person left a will, we simply follow the instructions.
- If not, then we stick to what the laws of succession say.
To be honest that’s all the law strictly requires. But there’s a catch. Some people keep their financial affairs confidential. This may include creditors who have priority over heirs, and they could go after you as executor of the deceased estate if you failed to try your best to find them.
If one of them did pop out of the woodwork later and prove their rights, one of these stark choices might confront you:
- Convince the heirs who received portions of the estate to settle the debt, perhaps pro-rated to their inheritance.
- If they don’t, and you did not make reasonable efforts you face the possibility of being liable for the debt yourself
That’s Why You Must Trace the Creditors
You obviously can’t be expected to uncover information which is carefully hidden. However, a look around the deceased’s home and car should turn up a few clues. You can then approach their bank with the death certificate and the right to ask, and begin to unravel their finances.
Once you are inside the system you can start to trace the network of linked accounts, transfers to third parties, and stop orders etc. But you still run the risk of not uncovering a significant financial obligation. However, fortunately Section 27 of the Trustee Act 1925 offers a way out.
Advertising a Deceased Estate to Attract Creditors
That’s what’s behind those advertisements we see in the papers. So-and-so has passed on etc etc. However, just using a local paper is hardly fair to a person living in another town. Section 27 of the Trustee Act 1925 defines what is legally fair.
- You must allow a minimum of two months from the date of publication during which any creditors should contact you as executor.
- If the deceased estate includes a property, you must place a notice in a newspaper local to that asset.
However, if you believe in the ‘belts and braces’ approach you might also like to place a notice in The Gazette. This is the official mouthpiece of the probate system and is as good as it gets.
What You Achieve By Doing So
Placing advertisements in local papers helps inform family and friends of the loss. However, in so far as creditors go we are assuming they have access to the media we chose. But The Gazette, being the national spokesperson of government spreads your net so wide nobody could accuse you of being remiss, and not doing the right thing.
It also absolves you as executor – and any trustees – from being liable for any unidentified creditors. Although this is only after you waited for more than two months for a response.
However if you did not advertise in The Gazette – and a creditor subsequently comes forward after the estate has been distributed – you may have some personal liability.
How to Place a Deceased Notice in the Gazette
The Gazette provides a complete, internet-based, deceased estate service for placing, and paying for notices. This includes local newspapers and its own publication too. Their handy checklist ensures the advertisements are fit for purpose, and include all the necessary details.
1… First register with The Gazette as an individual or organizational notice placer. Being logged on as a researcher does not allow you to use the advertisement service.
2… Confirm you have obtained at least one of the following: (a)grant of probate, (b) letter of administration or (c) death certificate before proceeding.
3… Consider your options carefully and choose the one that suits you best. When you are ready, complete the internet form in the assurance you are doing the right thing.
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