Finance: Choosing the Executor of your last Will and Testament

An integral part of making a Will is to nominate one or several persons who will administer your estate after you have passed away. Choosing an Executor is an important task, but how do you decide who will be the best person for the job? The decision is all the more critical since you obviously won’t be around to check that they’re carrying out your wishes properly, and no official checks are made. Dishonest and fraudulent Executors do exist and, unfortunately, probate fraud is on the rise.

Here are some useful guidelines to make sure you choose an Executor who is both capable and trustworthy to administer your estate after you’ve gone.

What exactly does an Executor do?

An Executor is a person named in your Will; s/he has the legal responsibility to make sure any financial obligations arising from your death are dealt with and the instructions you leave in your Will are carried out.

The roles and responsibilities are set out in detail here, and typically include

  • Sorting out the initial practical arrangements
  • Establishing the net value of the Estate
  • Completing tax returns and settling payment
  • Applying for a Grant of Probate
  • Distributing the assets to the beneficiaries according to the Will

Depending on your situation, administering the estate can be complex and may take several months to complete.

Who can be an Executor?

Anyone over the age of 18 can be named as an Executor of a Will; there’s no problem if your Executor is also named as a beneficiary. Most people will choose someone close to them who they can trust, such as a spouse, civil partner, siblings or children.

The main qualities required of a good Executor apart from honesty and integrity are good organisational and communication skills so that the process can be dealt with efficiently. There’s no need for any legal or financial qualifications in order to carry out the role, though specialist knowledge in these fields can be immensely helpful. That’s why many people choose one family member and a professional such as an accountant or solicitor.

How many Executors should be named?

Technically, one Executor is sufficient to administer your Will, however it’s best to play it safe. What if your Executor dies before you do? And whoever you appoint, even if they’ve confirmed that they would be happy to carry out these duties for you in principle, may decline the responsibility when the time comes. If there is no Executor available, the court may appoint a Public Trustee to administer your Estate.

You can appoint up to four Executors but since they all have to act jointly, this might not be practical. However, it is good practice to name two Executors (or one plus a substitute), just in case one of them should pass away before you do.

Photo by Álvaro Serrano on Unsplash

Who should you choose as your Executor?

In addition to the basic qualities mentioned above – honesty and integrity, good organisational and communication skills – it is essential that you choose a person who you trust to handle your personal affairs. They will need to be able to carry out the instructions set out in your Will and be prepared to negotiate to find fair solutions to any disagreements that may arise.

  • Choosing a family member is the obvious choice. However, do take account of sensitive family dynamics that may be heightened in important end-of-life situations. The last thing you want is to ignite family in-squabbling and accusations of favouritism.

Often, it can be helpful to choose one of the main beneficiaries of the Will, since it is in their interest to carry out their duties as an Executor properly and swiftly. Be mindful, though, that they might be overwhelmed with grief and would much rather that someone else took on the administrative burden.

Naming a son/daughter because s/he is a qualified accountant or lawyer would seem to be a sensible choice. Another good solution would be to choose a family member to deal with the family side of things, as well as a solicitor to handle any legal and tax work.

  • Choosing a professional solicitor, accountant or bank is an excellent idea, particularly if you know that there will be complex legal or financial matters to deal with after your death. What’s more, your professional advisers will be regulated by their own professional bodies such as the Solicitors’ Regulation Authority, providing extra piece of mind to you.

Unlike lay Executors, professional Executors will make a charge for dealing with your affairs. It’s important to understand how much this is likely to cost so that you can allow for funds from your Estate to be allocated to this.

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