Can I Carry Out Probate Work on Behalf of the Executor?
10 June 2019
Many tasks during probate can only be carried out by the named executor. If the executor of an estate doesn't want to act (maybe they don't have time or they are unwell, for example) then there is a specific legal process through which they can step down from the role, and there are certain individuals who can take over.
It's not possible for anyone to simply step into the shoes of the executor on an informal basis, but there are some tasks that can be carried out by someone other than the named executor.
The Role of Executor Explained
When someone dies, their affairs will need to be wound up. This can include applying for a grant of probate, selling or transferring everything they owned, paying off their outstanding debts and the costs of dealing with their estate, valuing their estate, paying any tax that's due and distributing what's left to the beneficiaries of the estate. This process is commonly referred to as probate and the person who is responsible for carrying out this work is normally called the executor (if there is a will) or the administrator (if there isn't).
For more information on exactly what's involved in the role, see executor / administrator duties explained.
These two roles are essentially the same, other than the way in which they are appointed. To keep things simple, we'll refer to executors in this article.
The executor is the person (or people) that the deceased has chosen to administer their estate after they die, and they will be named in the deceased's will. This is often a friend or relative that was close to the deceased, but it could also be a professional such as a bank or a solicitor.
Why Might an Executor Not Want to Act?
There are a number of reasons why an executor may not want to act. It could be that they have become unwell and are not fit to take on the role, it may be that they don't have the time to commit to it, or it may be that they do not want to take on a role with such large responsibilities.
As the named executor is commonly someone who was close to the deceased, then another reason why they may not want to act may simply be because they need time and space to grieve. Our probate advisors are often contacted by the relatives of executors who are in exactly this situation. We have received many phone calls from the spouse of someone who has recently lost a parent and has been named as the Executor in their Will. Often the spouse wants to take on some of the burden for their bereaved husband or wife and carry out the probate work on their behalf, allowing them the time they need to grieve.
How Can I Take Over From an Executor?
If the will names more than one executor, and you are one of those named, then the process is quite straightforward for the other executor to step down. In this situation, the executor who doesn't want to act has two options. They can either choose to renounce as executor or they can have power reserved to them when you apply for a grant of probate.
In order to renounce from the role, a legal document called a deed of renunciation will need to be drawn up. Once this has come into effect, the executor will have given up the role and responsibilities on a permanent basis, and this cannot usually be undone.
For an executor to have power reserved to them, the acting executor(s) need to serve them with a Notice of Power Reserved. This is just written confirmation that the acting executor(s) intend to apply for the grant of probate in their name(s) only. When an executor has had power reserved to them, they can still apply to the court to become involved in the estate administration at a later date if they wish.
If the will names more than one executor and you are not one of those named, then you will not have automatic authority to step in and take over. Instead, this responsibility will fall to the other executors named in the will.
If none of the named executors are able or willing to act, then one of the main beneficiaries of the will can normally apply for the grant instead.
Can I Help in Any Way if I'm Not an Executor?
The main duties of the executor are carried out by the person or people that have been named on the grant of probate. If you have not been named on this document, then you will not normally be able to carry out tasks such as closing down the deceased's bank accounts or selling their assets.
However, there are a number of other practical tasks that you will be able to help with following the death. These include contacting companies (such as utilities) to notify them of the death, helping with the funeral arrangements, helping to secure and clear the property, and informing friends and relatives of the funeral details.