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Appointing an executor of a will explained  

In this guide, we look the role of an executor of a will and how to appoint one. We also answer the question of whether an executor can be a beneficiary.

What is an executor of a will? 

An executor is someone named in your will who has the legal authority to deal with your estate when you die. Your estate is made up of all the things you own. This includes your home and car, savings and investments, and your personal belongings. It can also include a life insurance payout. 

The job of the executor is to make sure that all your finances are sorted out following your death. This includes applying for probate if needed. Probate is a legal document that gives the executor the authority to deal with your estate. 

If there’s no will, then someone can apply to become the administrator of your estate instead.

What are the responsibilities of an executor?  

Being an executor is a very responsible position. These are the main things that your executor will need to do: 

Take care of the financial paperwork 

Your executor will need to find all the paperwork that relates to your financial affairs. They must know: 

  • which bank accounts you have
  • who looks after your savings and investments  
  • where all your pensions are  
  • if you have any life insurance policies. 

Distribute the death certificate 

Organisations that manage your finances will often need a copy of your death certificate. These include your bank, HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) and other government organisations. Your bank account can then be frozen, so no one can get access to your money unless they have authority to. 

Pay for funeral arrangements 

Your executor usually pays for your funeral unless there is a funeral plan in place already. The cost of the funeral can be taken out of the value of the estate. 

Open a bank account 

The executor can open a bank account which they can use to hold all the money from your estate. This is called an executorship account. The money can then be shared out amongst your beneficiaries. A beneficiary is the person or people who receive money or goods from your estate when you die. You can choose whoever you want to be a beneficiary. Find out more about beneficiaries. 

Value your estate 

Your executor will need to make a list of all the assets you have and all the debts you owe. Your assets include things like: 

  • your home and car  
  • savings and investments  
  • insurances and pensions  
  • your personal possessions. 

Together, these items are the value of your estate and any debts you owe can be taken off this amount. 

Work out inheritance tax 

If your assets add up to more than £325,000, your executor will need to work out how much inheritance tax is due. If you also leave your home to your immediate family, this amount could increase to £500,000. The executor then must make arrangements to pay the tax.  

Apply for probate 

A grant of probate gives the executor permission to administer your estate when you die. When probate has been granted, the money from your estate can be released to the executorship bank account. 

Settle your debts 

Before your executor can distribute your estate, they need to pay off any debts you have. This includes any unpaid taxes, so they’ll need to complete a tax return on your behalf as well. 

Share out the estate 

Only when all the finances are settled, can your estate be given to your beneficiaries. Your executor will keep detailed records of how the estate is divided so all the beneficiaries can agree the final settlement. 

Who can be an executor?

Executors must be 18 or over. Choose someone you trust who's used to dealing with financial issues. They'll also need to be an organised administrator. 

It’s very common to appoint family members or friends as your executors. You can also ask a solicitor, accountant or probate professional. You can name as many executors as you like, but only four can act at any one time. All executors need to agree on how to proceed with your will, so fewer may mean a smoother settlement.

Appointing at least two executors is useful in case one of them can’t or decides not to take on the role. 

As someone who is newly bereaved, it can be difficult for close family members to be an executor. If you do appoint family or friends, they can choose to bring in a professional for advice at any time. If your family don’t want to take on the task of being an executor, they can pay a professional instead. 

In England and Wales, your executor is personally and financially liable for any mistakes they make. So, if you have complicated financial affairs it's useful to get a second opinion if they’re unsure about what to do.  

Can an executor of a will also be a beneficiary?

Yes, an executor of a will can also be a beneficiary. In fact, it’s very common for people to appoint close family members as both executors and beneficiaries.  

You must make sure that executors and beneficiaries are not witnesses to your will. They won’t be able to benefit from it if they are.

How do I appoint an executor? 

First, think about who you want to appoint. You'll need to trust them to follow your will to the letter. Speak to them about becoming an executor and get their agreement to take on the role. 

You have to name your executors in your will, and this gives them the authority to deal with your affairs. It also allows them to apply for probate. This means they can sort out your finances and follow the instructions in your will. 

Can an executor appoint another executor? 

Yes, an executor can appoint someone else to deal with the will if they don't want to. They’ll need to complete an online form to appoint a person to act as their representative. 

What happens if there's no named executor? 

If there’s no will, or no executors named in the will, then someone else can apply to administer your estate. This person is often a family member, such as your next of kin. They apply for 'letters of administration' which lets them manage your finances in the same way as an executor. 

What do I need to consider if I’m asked to be an executor?

The three main things to consider are: 

Time commitment 

Even the most straightforward of estates can be time-consuming to deal with. Sorting out the paperwork can take many months, especially if there is property to sell.  

Complexity of the estate 

Estates with complicated finances can be very difficult to manage. Consider using a probate service or solicitor if the deceased ran a business or had large debts. You can bring in a professional to help you out at any stage of the probate process. 

Emotional toll 

If you're a close friend or family member, you may not feel ready to take on such a taxing role. Think about whether you’ll have the time and resilience to manage the workload. 

Making a claim for life insurance as an executor

When someone dies, you may need to get in touch with a life insurance company to claim a life insurance policy. The insurance company may need to see a copy of the death certificate and your grant of probate.  

When the claim is approved the money can be paid into the bank account set up by you as executor. 

It's then available to you to pay debts, cover inheritance tax or be given to the beneficiaries of the will. Find out more about the benefits of life insurance. 

Appointing an executor – things to consider 

Being an executor is a huge responsibility. The person you appoint must make sure they act in the best interests of your estate. HMRC can issue penalties against your estate if your taxes aren’t paid on time. So, it’s crucial to appoint someone who’s trustworthy and diligent.

Vitality life insurance

Want to know more about life insurance or thinking about taking out a policy? Here are some of the benefits of taking out life insurance with Vitality: 

  • A brand you can trust - In 2022, we paid out 99.7% of life insurance claims.* 
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Published: 11 June 2024

* Vitality Life Claims and Benefits Report, 2023

** Minimum monthly premium of £45 for single life plans and £60 for joint life plans required to obtain access to full range of discounts and rewards.  An additional monthly fee of £4.75 per person per month may apply.

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