The executor of a will

Making a will is the sensible way to guarantee that your assets go exactly where you want them to after you’ve gone.

Kim Jones
Kim Jones
Updated 7 April 2022  | 3 mins read

In your will, you’ll need to name the person or people you want to appoint as executors. This is a family member, friend or professional who is hired to carry out the administration of your will after your death.

Key points

  • An executor is the person named in a will who sorts out the estate of the person who’s died
  • The executors of your will can be family members, friends, or professionals like a solicitor
  • They’ll ensure that your assets are shared out as you want after you’re gone
  • It’s up to the executors to identify and value all the assets of the deceased and pay inheritance tax and other debts, too

What is an executor?

An executor is a person of your choosing who will carry out your instructions and wishes after your death. They’ll administer your estate as detailed in your will.

What are the duties of the executor of a will?

Typically, their duties will include applying for probate, locating all financial documentation, sending death certificates to banks and freezing accounts. They’ll also need to pay any bills and debts including inheritance tax, collect all money owed to the deceased, sell property and share out money to the will’s beneficiaries.

Who can be the executor of a will?

An executor can be anyone of your choosing who is over 18, even beneficiaries of your will.

Some people choose their spouse, partner, grown-up children or other family members. But, because of the complex financial transactions and legalities involved, many people appoint a professional, like a solicitor - though they will charge for the service. You could even appoint a solicitor as well as a family member.

How many executors of a will should I have?

Most people elect one or two people to undertake the role of executor, though you can choose up to a total of four people.

They must act together and agree on things jointly, so it’s important you consider this when deciding on your executors. Having too many may cause friction, confusion or delays in administering the will.

How should I choose my executor?

Whoever you choose, you’ll need to trust them and feel that they’re able to take on the legal, financial and practical aspects of the role, which can be complicated.

You should always ask if they’re happy to take on the role before nominating them.

If you don’t appoint a solicitor as your executor at the time of writing your will, your chosen executors can still choose to appoint one to help them if they feel they need professional help and expertise.

Choosing one or more trusted people to execute (carry out the terms) of your will is a big decision on your part, and it’s also a big responsibility to take on as it can be both time consuming and stressful.

It’s important to give your potential executors time to think about if they feel comfortable taking on the role especially as ultimately they’ll need to apply for Probate and settle any inheritance tax due.
Sue Hayward, Personal Finance & Consumer Journalist, Broadcaster & Author

What if the person has outstanding debts?

Part of the responsibility of being an executor is paying off any outstanding debts from the estate.

They should check if the person who has died has life insurance to pay off any debt, like the mortgage.

If it becomes apparent that the estate is insolvent - that it doesn’t have enough assets to cover debts and expenses - then the executor will need to appoint a solicitor to administer the estate.

Being the executor of a will - what are the steps?

Every will is unique and will have different complexities. But an executor will usually need to take the following steps:

  • Register the death
  • Ensure they have the latest copy of the deceased’s will
  • Carry out funeral requests and pay for the funeral from the deceased’s estate or pre-paid funeral plan
  • Value the estate. Find out exactly what the person who died owned, as well as what they owed. Pay any inheritance tax due.
  • Find out if the deceased had life insurance and if it goes directly to a beneficiary
  • Apply for probate - this is the legal right to deal with their estate
  • Pay off debts
  • Distribute the estate as requested in the will

What are the executors’ responsibilities regarding inheritance tax?

It’s up to the executors to work out whether any inheritance tax is due and to pay the full amount to HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

This will depend on how much the estate is worth.

Inheritance tax may have to be paid on the estate if it’s worth more than £325,000. The standard inheritance tax rate is 40% - charged on everything over this threshold.

However, there’s normally no inheritance tax to pay if everything above the £325,000 threshold is left to a spouse, civil partner or charity.

What if there’s no will?

Passing away without a will is known as dying ‘intestate’. In such a case, the estate of the deceased person is shared out following the rules of intestacy.

These rules share out the estate between close or blood relatives.

For example, in England and Wales:

  • If you’re married or in a civil partnership with no children, your surviving partner inherits everything
  • If you’re married or in a civil partnership and have children, your surviving partner inherits the first £270,000 of an estate, plus half of everything left over after this amount. The rest is shared out between the deceased’s children
  • If you don’t have a partner or children, your estate may be inherited by parents, siblings, half-siblings and other family members

Who can make a claim on life insurance after death?

The claim can be made by the beneficiary of the policy - or by the executors of the will. It’s then paid to the beneficiary in due course.

When you’re taking out a life insurance policy, it’s always important you include details of it in your will and also let your beneficiary know about the policy so they can claim for the money.

What happens when the owner of a life insurance policy dies?

Whoever is making a claim on the policy will need to provide the insurer with some details. This includes the name of the deceased, the life insurance policy number, as well as the cause of death and a copy of the death certificate.

When the claim has been accepted, then the payout can be made.

  • If the policy was set up in trust, then the payout will go directly to the named beneficiary or beneficiaries, with no inheritance tax to pay. This is generally not considered part of the estate – so it’s exempt from inheritance tax. Plus, the payout to your loved ones can usually be made more quickly because you don’t need to wait for probate
  • If the policy was not set up in trust, the payment will be made to the executors of the will and then distributed to the beneficiary or beneficiaries. It may be subject to inheritance tax and could take longer to be paid