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What is an executor of a will?

An executor of a will takes responsibility for dealing with the estate of a person who has died. Find out exactly what an executor does and how to choose one.

An executor of a will takes responsibility for dealing with the estate of a person who has died. Find out exactly what an executor does and how to choose one.

Written by
Anna McEntee
Insurance comparison expert
Last Updated
12 MAY 2023
5 min read
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What is an executor?

An executor of a will deals with the estate of a person after they die. A person’s estate could consist of:

  • Any property they owned
  • Money held in a bank or building society  
  • Stocks and shares, including ISAs and other investments  
  • Pensions  
  • Personal possessions and heirlooms.

There may also be proceeds of a life insurance policy – often used to cover funeral costs – to take care of. 

If someone dies without leaving a will, then the individual who takes care of their estate is known as the administrator.

What does an executor of a will do?

The role of an executor of a will includes:

  • Seeking the grant of probate. This is often the first step in administering an estate. You apply for the official grant yourself or by using a solicitor.
  • Finding all the financial documentation belonging to the deceased person.
  • Sending the death certificate to the organisation(s) holding a person’s assets, such as their former employer.
  • Asking for bank balances and also freezing any bank accounts that were active at the time of a person’s death.
  • Verifying any debts owed to the estate or any debt owed by it.
  • Preparing a detailed list of everything owned by the estate.
  • Paying any inheritance tax that may be outstanding.

If the deceased had a will, the estate will be distributed in accordance with their wishes. If the person died without leaving a will, it will be distributed according to a set of legal directives called the rules of intestacy.

Dealing with debts

It’s part of the role of the executor of a will to contact the deceased’s creditors. To do this, the executor puts a deceased estates notice in The Gazette.

As an executor, it’s important to do this before you pay out the estate to the person’s beneficiaries. If you don’t and creditors come forward, you might have to use your own money to pay the debt.

Debts will need to be paid from the estate. If the deceased’s assets won’t cover outstanding debts, a creditor can’t recover this from surviving relatives – unless the debts were jointly owed.

Dealing with taxes

A will executor should try to sort out the tax or benefits of an estate as soon as possible, as there may be tax to pay or a rebate due. Also, the executor will need to tell the tax office and any other bodies that were paying benefits at the time the person died.

Applying for probate

If an estate includes a property, it will probably need to go through probate. This is the legal right to deal with an estate.

Probate might not be necessary if the person who died only had savings or owned a property with other people as joint owners. In this case, the property will automatically go to the surviving owners.

Executors can apply for probate by post or online at GOV.UK once they’ve valued the estate.

Who can be the executor of a will?

Anybody aged 18 and over can be an executor of a will.

People commonly choose their spouse or civil partner, or their children, to be their executor.

You can have joint executors of a will – as many as four will executors can act at a time. But as they all need to act jointly, it may not be a good idea to appoint that many.

You could pick one member of your family and a professional: a solicitor, for example. You’re allowed to choose substitute executors in case your original executor dies before (or around the same time as) you.

Always ask the person whether they agree to be an executor. And give them the chance to opt out as they may not want the responsibility.

Can the executor of a will be a beneficiary?

A will executor can be named as a beneficiary. However, they can’t be one of the official witnesses to a will.

What is the executor of a will entitled to?

An executor who’s a family member or friend isn’t entitled to be paid for their role. But they can claim back any expenses they incur from the estate. The will might also include a gift for the executor.

If the executor is a professional – a solicitor, for example – they’ll probably charge a fee for their services. There should be a clause in the will enabling them to do this.

How to choose an executor

A will executor can be a friend, family member or someone unrelated. But it should be someone you feel you can trust and who is willing to take on the responsibility of the role.

They’ll need to be able to follow all the instructions that you leave in your will – and to find solutions to any problems that may arise.

Choosing a solicitor as an executor of a will

Choosing an executor who has legal experience and a sharp eye for detail could be a good idea. It also means friends and family won’t have to take on an executor’s duties while they’re grieving.

The downside is that solicitors can be expensive. Alternatively, non-professional executors can always appoint a professional, like a solicitor, bank or accountant, to help if needed.

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