Administering a Will can be a legal and emotional minefield, so choose your executors carefully.
Few legal documents in life are as important as your Will. Yet, unlike your employment contract, marriage certificate or any number of other crucial documents, you will not be around to ensure that its terms are properly respected. So who should you rely on to manage the legal process as your executor?
You may be inclined to ask a close family member, like a spouse or child. But it is important to remember that your choice of executor carries legal weight and that the responsibilities of the position have been defined by an Act of Parliament. “It may not be enough for an executor to be loyal,” says Suzanne Lurie, partner at solicitors Linder Myers. “He or she should also be capable of dealing with the deceased’s money and property, and carrying out their wishes in strict accordance with the Will.”
There are therefore several criteria worth bearing in mind as you or those close to you think about whom to appoint to this important role. To begin with, an executor must be aged 18 or more and of ‘sound mind’. It is preferable to choose someone likely to live longer than you, as well as someone trustworthy and reliable.
You may appoint between one and four executors (two is typical) but it is important that executors can work together effectively, as arguments cost both time and money. It is also advisable to choose executors who live in the same country, as it is harder to manage the process from abroad; and it is best to ask an executor’s permission in advance, so as to give them the right to refuse.
“It is important to realise that what you are asking of an executor is extensive and can become onerous, however good your relationship,” counsels Lurie. “The payment of all debts and the distribution of assets does not mark the end of an executor’s role. If mistakes are made, their involvement could last for up to six years.”
It is worth therefore considering for a moment the number of tasks an executor will have to fulfil.
An executor must register the death, value the estate (which may involve writing to banks and financial institutions), and assess debts and liabilities. A ‘grant of probate’ will need to be applied for, probate and tax forms will need completing to assess Inheritance Tax obligations, and the tax will then need paying, which can involve raising funds if the estate’s funds cannot cover it. The executor must collect all assets and money, pay all debts and bills (including funeral expenses), and prepare accounts for the estate. He or she must then distribute the estate in accordance with the terms of the Will and deal with any claims which might arise, such as from a disappointed beneficiary.
An executor can even be held personally responsible if debts are not paid, or if the estate is not distributed correctly. Nevertheless, there are advantages to involving someone who knew the deceased well. Given these risks, some people choose to employ two executors, one personal and one professional. While the former has intimate knowledge of the deceased (and therefore understands his/her wishes well), the latter (often a solicitor) is well acquainted with the law and with the responsibilities of an executor.
If there are trusts in the Will, executors usually become trustees and their duties will continue during the life of the trust. The employment of a professional trustee ensures that a long-lived trust need not create administrative problems. “A professional trustee costs more in the short term, but plays a vital role in ensuring that an estate is smoothly and efficiently handled at what is already an emotional time,” advises Lurie.
Will writing involves the referral to a service that is separate and distinct to those offered by St. James’s Place. Wills and trusts are not regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.