What is an executor of a will?

Have you been advised to appoint an executor of your will, but you’re not sure what they are or why you would need one?

 Kristina Smith, private client partner at Preston-based law firm Birchall Blackburn Law, answers some frequently asked questions about appointing an executor.

 What is an executor of a will?

An executor of a will is given the legal responsibility of taking care of your financial obligations once you die. They are responsible for making sure any debts and creditors are paid off and that any remaining money and property is distributed according to your wishes.

Who can be an executor?

Anyone who is over the age of 18 can be appointed as an executor of your will, this can include those who are also beneficiaries. It is common for people to choose their spouse, civil partner or children.

You can appoint up to four people but it’s important to remember that they will have to act jointly so acknowledge family feuds and tension when appointing your executors.

What makes a good executor?

There are numerous characteristics that your chosen executors should possess. The legal word to describe this is ‘fiduciary duty’ which holds them to act in good faith.

An executor should be conscientious and decisive, they need to make strong decisions in the interest of all beneficiaries. It’s important they have time to deal with extensive paperwork and in the instance of numerous executors, it’s important they communicate well and work as part of a team.

What will an executor do?

 There are many duties they will fulfil, dependent on the complexity of the will. These duties include, but are not limited to; finding and managing the assets; paying any inheritance tax that may be due; contacting the beneficiaries of the will; filing the will with the appropriate probate registry; setting up a bank account for the estate and arranging the relevant payments.

Do I need to appoint a solicitor to act as an executor?

 You are free to appoint anyone of your choice to be the executor of your will. It is sometimes wise to appoint a professional such as a solicitor, an accountant or the bank to be one of your executors, alongside a friend or relative.

This enables the burden of work to be split and shared with a professional who can offer help and advice. If for any reason your chosen executor is unable or unwilling to carry out their duties, having a professional person included as one of your executors will ensure support is there.

What happens if my executor is unable to act?

If an executor is unable to act, the probate registry will appoint someone to be the administrator of estate. There is a statutory list of entitlements as to who can assume this role. Unfortunately, this means that there is no guarantee the person you would have liked to fulfil the role will be able to do so.