When someone dies, the property they leave behind is called their ‘estate’. Their will names the executors who will be legally responsible for collecting in all of the estate, paying off any debts and liabilities, and distributing the estate to the beneficiaries under the will.
Executors are legally responsible for:
- Identifying everything in the estate — for example, cash from bank accounts, insurance policy proceeds and pension payments.
- Valuing the assets. Specialist valuers may be needed to value some assets such as the home or shares in a family company.
- Calculating any debts and liabilities of the estate — mortgages, loans, credit cards and so on.
- Completing inheritance tax forms, dealing with any inheritance tax due.
- Applying for a grant of probate.
- Paying funeral costs (or reimbursing whoever has already paid them).
- Collecting in all the assets and paying the debts and liabilities.
- Making distributions to beneficiaries in accordance with the terms of the will. You may need to pay a tracing service to find some of them.
- Drawing up estate accounts for the beneficiaries so they can see that everything has been accounted for.
Executors can also act as trustees if the will sets up a trust — for children under 18, for example.
As executor, you only act as a representative. For example, any income from investments in the estate during probate gets added to the estate and does not belong to the executors. Similarly, you are not personally liable for the deceased’s debts or liabilities. However, you do have a legal duty to secure the estate for the benefit of the beneficiaries.