Executor and administrator duties explained

Executors and administrators have a lot of responsibilities and can be held financially liable for any mistakes they make.

What is an executor?

After someone dies, their property, possessions, money and other affairs need to be sorted out. This is called dealing with their estate. If the person who died left a will, this will name an executor, which is the person responsible for doing this work. If there is no will then the person responsible for doing this work is called the administrator, and this is usually the next of kin.

The executor or administrator is the person who has the legal authority to do this work and they can ultimately be held accountable for any mistakes made.

See estate administrator held liable for £340,000 Inheritance Tax bill.

You might also hear executors or administrators referred to as personal representatives. This is a general term for the person responsible for dealing with the estate.

With our probate complete service we take full responsibility for getting the grant of probate and dealing with the legal, tax, property and estate administration work.

We can also pay all the costs of a Co-op Funeralcare funeral, providing the estate has sufficient financial assets which can be sold in due course.

Have you been named as executor?

If the person who died left a will, this will name one or more people as executor.

If there isn't a will, the position of administrator is determined by inheritance rules called the rules of intestacy. These rules also determine how the estate will be distributed.

Executor duties and responsibilities explained

Being named as executor in a will can bring with it complicated, difficult and time-consuming duties which can take up to a year or more to complete.

It is crucial to get everything right because the executor is legally responsible for administering the estate in accordance with the terms of the will and the law. An executor is responsible for everything they do or fail to do when administering the estate.

Acting as the executor of a will can be a very daunting prospect because of the amount of legal, tax and administrative responsibilities. An executor's responsibilities last for the duration of the administration of the estate and can also carry on afterwards if there are trusts.

Duties of the executor

Legal responsibilities

Tax responsibilities

  • Completing and submitting the Inheritance Tax (IHT) return and paying any Inheritance Tax owed
  • Completing the relevant Income Tax and Capital Gains Tax returns and paying any outstanding tax owed

Estate administration responsibilities

  • notifying and corresponding with all relevant organisations in order to cash or transfer the deceased’s assets and pay the debts and liabilities of the estate
  • searching for unclaimed or missing assets
  • preparing and distributing estate accounts
  • correctly distributing the estate to the beneficiaries

If you find yourself in this situation and you are feeling overwhelmed, we can help. Our fully trained probate specialists will work alongside our probate solicitors and lawyers to support you, and our probate advisory team offer free initial advice and guidance on executor duties and responsibilities.

How long do the executor's duties take?

The length of time that it takes to administer an estate will vary depending on the size and complexity of the estate, as well as how much time the executor is able to commit to it and their proficiency in carrying out their duties. In many cases it can take up to a year, but it could take longer.

There is a lot of complex tax, legal and administrative work involved in the administration of an estate, so it’s important to be aware of what the executor role entails right from the outset.

Do all executors of a will have to apply for probate?

Often more than one executor is named in a will, but not all of the executors have to apply for probate. A maximum of four people can apply to the Probate Registry to prove a will and be named on the grant of probate.

If some executors choose not to be involved in the administration of the estate, they have two choices. They can either renounce their role altogether or they can have 'power reserved' to them, which means they can step back in later on if they choose to.

Personal representative responsibilities explained

A personal representative can be held personally financially liable for any loss resulting from a breach of their duty, even if the mistake was made in good faith, such as:

  • failure to pay the debts and liabilities of the deceased
  • failure to pay all Inheritance Tax, Income Tax & Capital Gains Tax due
  • failure to distribute funds to an individual who is successful in their claim against the estate
  • failure to identify, and correctly distribute funds to the beneficiaries, including any missing beneficiaries or missing assets

Disappointed family members or dependants have up to 6 months to make a claim after the grant of representation has been issued, while the deceased’s creditors can potentially make a claim against the personal representative for up to 12 years after the death.

How does probate work if the named executor has died?

If an executor dies after the estate administration has begun, what happens next depends on whether the executor dies before or after probate has been granted.

If an executor dies before probate has been granted, but there are other executors named in the will, the surviving executors can simply apply for the probate.

If all of the named executors have died or there are no substitute executors, the law will determine who is entitled to administer the estate. The Non-Contentious Probate Rules 1987 lists the order of priority of who can take this role.

If a sole executor dies after the grant of probate has been issued, if they left their own will, then the acting executor of their estate will also become the executor of the original estate. This means that no further grant of probate will need to be issued on the original estate. This is known as the chain of representation.

However, if the deceased executor did not leave a will, there isn't a chain of representation and a new grant would be required to complete the estate administration. The person who is entitled to apply for this document will usually be a residuary beneficiary.

What’s the difference between an executor and a trustee in probate?

Executors and trustees both have a part to play in probate, but these two roles are very different.

Trustees will only be needed if a trust arises under the will. The trustees are the people responsible for looking after the assets in the trust for the benefit of the named beneficiaries.

Find out more about trusts and trustees in wills.

If you need help with probate, contact us:

Authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority

Estate administration in England and Wales is not a reserved legal activity. This means that unregulated providers can offer estate administration services regardless of whether they are insured, experienced or qualified to provide a full service.

Co-op Legal Services is a trading name for Co-operative Legal Services Limited which is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, giving you peace of mind that your estate administration affairs are being dealt with by a regulated organisation and a brand you know and trust.

Co-op Legal Services carries insurance covering all of our work plus we have protection of client funds under the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS).

Our team of probate solicitors and specialists includes many members of the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP). All STEP members are subject to an extensive code of professional conduct, requiring them at all times to act with integrity and in a manner that inspires the confidence, respect and trust of their clients and of the wider community.

Please note that our probate solicitors and probate consultants are available in England and Wales only for customers using our probate and estate administration service. If you don't know if probate is required, we can tell you.