Many people agree to be an executor of a will, especially for a relative or friend who is leaving them something when they die.
If there is no will, the nearest relative is usually appointed as the administrator of the estate, who has the same duties.
But the job of an executor or administrator can be more work – and responsibility – than people expect.
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After death, the executors are responsible for valuing all the deceased’s assets, assessing any debts and, for many estates, delivering an account of the value of the estate to the Probate Registry (or the Sheriff Clerk in Scotland).
When they do that they also have to pay probate fees and, if any Inheritance Tax is due, that as well.
If there is little in the estate, formal probate may not be required, especially if the will leaves the assets to a surviving spouse.
If it is required – property, investments, or large amounts of savings mean it usually will be – then probate is granted.
If there is no will it is called “Letters of Administration”. In Scotland it is all called “Confirmation”. Only then can the assets be released by banks and debts paid before the balance is distributed among the heirs.
Plans to raise probate fees in England and Wales from £215 for a personal application to as much as £6,000 for some large estates have been delayed and it is not clear when they will begin.
Paying probate fees and Inheritance Tax before the estate is released can cause problems for executors. Some assets such as money in a bank account or National Savings products may be released without probate up to certain limits, but each bank sets their own.
To do so they will need to see an original copy of the death certificate. Some banks may offer a bridging loan to pay the tax – the interest charged is a debt to the estate.
Although it’s complicated, it’s important to get things right as executors can be held personally liable for the cost of any errors.
A solicitor will give advice. For more information, visit citizensadvice.org.uk and search “probate”.