Executor of a will - guide to appointing an executor

Who to choose as your executor and how to appoint executors in your will.

What does the executor of your will do?

Executors are the people you name in your will to carry out your wishes after you die. They will be responsible for all aspects of winding up your affairs and administering your estate after you’ve died. This includes applying for a grant of probate (if needed), selling and transferring assets, paying off any liabilities, and distributing your estate according to the wishes you've set out in your will.

There's a lot involved in being an executor, and choosing who to appoint is an important decision.

Who can be an executor of a will?

In England and Wales an executor must be over 18 at the time of your death and they must have the mental capability to do the job. Your executor could be a friend, family member or a professional (such as a solicitor). An executor can also be someone you've named as a beneficiary in your will.

The role of an executor is a serious one which carries a lot of responsibility. When choosing your executor or executors you need to bear this in mind. It should be someone you trust to carry out this work.

How many executors can you have?

You can name as many executors as you like in your will, and you can also choose substitute executors in case your initial choices are unable to act. However, the maximum number of people that can act as executor at any one time is four.

You can name just one executor in your will, but we would always recommend appointing two or more executors, just in case your first choice is unable to act for any reason when the time comes.

How to appoint a will executor - top tips

Being an executor is an important role that carries considerable responsibilities. For more information, see executor duties explained.

Not everybody will want to be an executor, so before making a will, it’s a good idea to think carefully about who you are going to appoint as your executor. To help you decide, here are some top tips for appointing executors:

1. Talk to your chosen executor before making a will

When making a will, you will be asked to choose up to four executors. Before the will is created, you should have a conversation with each of your chosen executors to ensure they are happy to take on the role. Being an executor can be a lot of work, and some people might prefer not to be appointed. If they are willing to be appointed as your executor, the fact that you have spoken with them means that it will not come as a surprise in the future.

2. Appoint trusted individuals

An executor will need to deal with your personal assets, which can hold significant financial and emotional value. Furthermore, executors have a legal duty to act in the best interests of the estate, rather than any personal interest. They may not even be beneficiaries of the will. For these reasons, you must appoint executors who you trust, and who you can rely upon to deal with your affairs responsibly.

3. Does your chosen executor have the time?

Being an executor is often a very time consuming role. We estimate that on average, the probate process takes about nine-to-twelve months to complete, but it can take longer for more complicated estates.

Probate isn't always needed, but even if probate is not needed, there are many other tasks to carry out such as registering the death, arranging and paying for the funeral, and informing business and organisations of the death. The position of executor can become a full-time job if the estate is complicated, so you need check that your executor has enough time to commit to the role.

4. Consider using a professional executor

Some estates will be particularly complex. For instance, there may be Inheritance Tax to pay, properties to sell, or foreign assets to locate. This can require specialist knowledge that can be above and beyond the abilities of a lay-person.

There can also be conflict between family members who may have differing opinions on the correct approach to take. If you think having a neutral third party to deal with your estate would be beneficial, you can always nominate a legal professional in your will to act as an executor.

Alternatively, your executors may seek help from specialist probate solicitors after your death to assist with the administration of the estate. Having the help of a legal professional can give you the peace of mind that an estate is being administered correctly, removing the responsibility from family and friends.

5. What if your executor cannot act?

Sometimes your chosen executor will no longer be able to carry out the role, perhaps because of illness or the loss of mental capacity. Or it may be that your executor has died before you. In these situations it is important that you update your will to reflect the change in circumstances. Otherwise when you die, one of your beneficiaries will be asked to step in to do this work instead. This may not be the person you would have wanted to deal with your affairs.

We would recommend appointing more than one executor to mitigate this risk. An executor may be appointed to administer the estate either solely or jointly with another person. If an executor is appointed to act alone, it's still possible to name a second person as a substitute executor, who can step in to act if the first executor is unable to.

If multiple executors are appointed to act jointly, this means they all need to make decisions together. Another option is to appoint multiple executors to act 'jointly and severally' meaning they can make decisions together and independently of one another.

If multiple executors are appointed, they can either administer the estate together or one executor can choose not to act. The appointment of more than one executor will usually ensure that there is at least one executor who can act if something were to happen to the other.

However, if you do appoint more than one executor to act jointly, it can sometimes be difficult for them to agree on everything, and this can lead to unpleasant disputes. It's important to consider this when appointing joint executors in your will. There are ways in which conflict between joint executors can be avoided.

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