Executors: How to Read a Will When Someone Dies

22nd July 2015

We’ve all seen it in the movies – the grieving family gathers in a Solicitor’s office as the last Will and Testament of the deceased is read out by a stern looking man in a suit. Great Aunt Maude leaves everything except a silver jug to the local cat’s home, prompting uproar amongst the relatives.

This scenario, as you can imagine, is complete fiction. The reading of a Will is not like a scene out of a Hollywood film. In fact, it’s usually not read out at all. But if you’ve been appointed as an Executor then you do need to understand what needs to be done next.

Where Do I Find the Will?

You need to find the Will shortly after the deceased has passed away, if you do not already have a copy of the Will you should check among the deceased’s personal papers at home or at their office, and also with:

Solicitors, banks and Will storage companies will need proof of the death (a copy of the death certificate) and identification documents showing that you are the named Executor, before they hand over the Will.

Is it the 'Last' Will and Testament?

Once a Will is handed to the Executor, it should be read through to determine firstly that the Will is legally valid, and secondly that it is the last Will and Testament made by the deceased.

So before the Probate process can begin and the beneficiaries are notified of their entitlement (what they are to receive, i.e. the silver jug), it must be established that the Will has not been superseded by a later Will, and that any Codicils (updates or amendments to the Will) are also valid.

At this stage, if you are the named Executor of the Will and you have any doubts about the authenticity of the Will, you should talk to a Solicitor, Lawyer or legal expert straight away. They can help you determine if the Will is legally valid.

Letting People Know

Once the validity of the Will has been established, it is then down to the Executor to deal with the estate (all property and possessions), in accordance with the deceased’s last wishes. A Will can also include the deceased’s funeral wishes, so it’s important to read the Will sooner rather than later.

Beneficiaries named in the Will should be informed of their entitlement early in on in the process, so that they can raise any questions or challenges to the Will as early as possible. Probate (the legal process of administering an estate) can take a long time to resolve even if there are no challenges to the estate. So to make sure that everyone has a chance to question the terms of the Will, Executors need to inform beneficiaries quickly.

There may be other people who need to be informed of the content of the Will. One of these may be the deceased’s accountant, especially important if there are specific directions in the Will about a business or investments that might require specialist knowledge.

Other Responsibilities of the Executor

The Will hopefully sets out clearly how the estate should be divided between the beneficiaries. There are other considerations to take into account, and an Executor should go through the following steps before giving effect to the terms of the Will:

  • Reviewing all financial documents together with the Will and assessing the solvency of the estate
  • Sending a copy of the death certificate to organisations such as banks and building societies where the deceased held accounts, to ensure that the accounts are frozen immediately, and no further payments are made from them
  • Open an Executor’s account on behalf of the estate, into which the estate monies can be paid, before distribution to the beneficiaries
  • Find out if any money is owed to the estate and collect it
  • Find out if the deceased owed any money to creditors, and settle outstanding debts
  • Work out the amount of Inheritance Tax due (if any) and arrange payment
  • Finalise the deceased’s income tax affairs, and pay or reclaim any income tax due
  • Prepare and send in all forms/paperwork required by Probate Registry and HMRC
  • Prepare detailed accounts showing all payments into, and out of, the estate Executor's account, and the amount remaining for distribution to the beneficiaries.

What Next?

Once the Grant of Probate, or Letters of Administration have been granted (these are the documents issued by the Court giving the Executor the legal authority to administer the estate), the Executor can cash the deceased’s bank accounts, cash or transfer investments and collect any pension payments or life insurance policy proceeds payable to the estate.

The Executor will also need to pay any outstanding debts, the funeral bill and estate administration expenses such as Solicitor and Accountant fees. Once, and only once all of this is done, the Executor can then distribute the remainder to the beneficiaries as set out in the Will.

What if There’s Not Enough Money?

If there are not enough assets in the estate to cover outstanding tax, expenses, bills or debts, you should immediately get advice from an Insolvency Practitioner.

So as you can see, there’s much, much more to ‘reading a Will’ than sitting in a Solicitor's office listening to him reading the Will for all to hear. Present-day Will reading is a long and complex process.

What if There is No Will?

When someone dies in England or Wales without a valid Will, this is known as dying Intestate. Put simply, this means the law will determine who should receive everything you own, from your property and your bank accounts to your pets.

If you haven’t made a Will yet you are not alone, around 60% of adults in the UK currently have no Will; and many have children under 18 years old.

For help with making a Will call 01618558360 or contact our Wills team.

For help with Probate call 01618558359 or contact our Probate team.

If you have any questions please contact us and we’ll be happy to help you.

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