The executor of any estate is responsible for ensuring that the estate is distributed fairly and in accordance with the wishes of the deceased. If there is a valid will in place, this should be followed. In the instance where there is no will, the executor must apply the rules of intestacy. The executor can be made legally liable if things aren’t dealt with correctly. Therefore it's essential they get proper legal advice and take certain precautions. In this article, we list some of the precautions an executor of an estate should take.
Protect the property
The executor must ensure that the property of the deceased is protected. Often when someone dies and leaves the property, whether that’s a house or a house and belongings, they leave them empty. This increases the risk of the property being damaged or items being stolen which will reduce the estate's value. The executor needs to ensure that the property is protected through the right type of insurance that covers empty properties. In addition, they should take extra precautions to ensure the safety of the property, for example, fixing any broken windows or locks, removing any cash or expensive items from the property and making regular visits to ensure that everything is still at the property.
Take care of debts
If the deceased debts aren’t paid off correctly, the executor could be liable and made to pay off the debts after the estate has been distributed. It is important that executors take extra care when dealing with debt. They should look over the information carefully to identify any potential creditors that need to be contacted and paid back from the estate. This might mean reading through lots of paperwork and emails to ensure nothing is missed. This process can take a long time, but it's worth it to ensure the executor is not personally liable for the debts of the deceased.
Find all beneficiaries
If there are beneficiaries that are named on the will but cannot be found, it is important that the executor does everything they can to try and locate these heirs. They can employ probate genealogists for this; they have expert skills in hunting down missing beneficiaries. In the event that they can’t be located, the executor can purchase missing beneficiary insurance to cover themselves if someone comes to light after the estate has been distributed. If missing beneficiary insurance is purchased, then it will cover any money owed and the potential costs of dealing with a missing beneficiary coming forward at a later date. Without this insurance, the executor can be personally liable for any payments that should have been made to the missing beneficiary.
Dealing with tax
The executor of the estate needs to pay any tax that’s owed to the HMRC; this could be in the form of income tax or inheritance tax. Tax can be complex and challenging to understand; the executor should make sure they speak to the right people to ensure all tax matters are resolved before the money left is given away to the beneficiaries. When mistakes are made, the executor can be held liable for any tax that has not been paid correctly. Find out more information about inheritance tax.
Executors have a duty to keep clear accounts of everything they’ve paid for out of the estate and the corresponding paperwork. If mistakes are made, the executor may be liable for any costs incurred because the accounts were improperly kept.
Executors have a lot to deal with which can be very challenging, especially if the estate is large and complex. Executors are also often close to the deceased, which can make the process of dealing with the necessary paperwork even more challenging. To prevent mistakes and avoid personal liability, many executors choose to get advice from legal professionals. They will be able to help ensure everything is done correctly and quickly to avoid complications. When seeking professional help, consider personal recommendations, connections and companies you’ve worked with in the past. You'll also need to consider the cost of the help and how it may impact the estate's overall value. There is also lots of advice and resources available online if you prefer to do things yourself.