The role of executor (or administrator, in cases where there is no Will) can be complicated and wide-ranging. Many individuals who find themselves taking on this role really benefit from the support of a professional.
One of the most important ways for professionals to support their client in this position is to ensure they understand the scope of the role they’ve been tasked with. This includes making sure the client understands the various legal responsibilities that come with being an executor or administrator.
These could include:
- Registering the death and arranging the funeral (if not done by family members)
- Ensuring property and belongings are secure
- Notifying relevant people and organisations of the death
- Assessing and valuing the estate
- Communicating with the beneficiaries of the estate
- Settling outstanding debts
- Preparing property and belongings for sale
- Applying for probate
- Paying inheritance tax
- Tracking down beneficiaries
- Producing estate accounts for beneficiaries
- Distributing the estate in accordance with the Will (or intestacy rules)
A trusted accountant is often one of the first professionals an individual will turn to in these situations. This is especially the case if the accountant had first-hand knowledge of how the person who has died managed their finances. Support with assessing and understanding the finances of an estate can be extremely valuable. Many clients will find this is all they need to then go on to complete estate accounts, submit a probate application and pay any inheritance tax that’s due.
However, executors aren’t always aware of their full accounting duties. In cases where the executors and the beneficiaries are the same people (for example, the adult children of the person who has died) and there are no disputes, there’s likely to be minimal documentation necessary in terms of communication and accounting to beneficiaries. Conversely, if the executors are working on behalf of a bigger group of beneficiaries who haven’t been part of the process, the executors would need to provide full and accurate information about the amount of money each beneficiary was receiving, and why.
It’s also important to keep in mind that probate is not always straightforward. There are many factors that can complicate the process of administering an estate. In these situations, clients may need to be signposted to specialist legal advice.
Below we’ve set out some of the situations where it may be advisable to seek advice from an experienced probate solicitor.
Is there a dispute?
The period after a death can be tense and it’s not uncommon for the family members of the person who has died to have disagreements over how the estate should be managed. In these cases, seeking advice from an experienced contentious probate solicitor as early as possible can often help to quickly resolve the situation.
Are there questions about the Will?
Sometimes wills raise more questions than they answer. If your client has any concerns at all over the validity of the Will, it’s best to get this investigated by a professional before things go any further.
Does the Will contain a trust?
If a Will contains the requirement to set up a trust, the executors will likely require some legal assistance to ensure this is done correctly. Trusts need careful management and it’s important to ensure this is done correctly for the benefit of all parties.
Are professional accounts needed?
A specialist probate solicitor would be able to advise on whether or not thorough, professional accounts need to be drawn up for beneficiaries. They would also be able to produce these on behalf of the estate if necessary.
Are there difficulties in accessing assets?
Accessing assets in order to value and distribute them is not always simple. If your client is experiencing difficulties with this, they may benefit from legal support.
Is the inheritance tax unaffordable?
Some estates result in a large inheritance tax bill without any obvious means of paying for it. This can be the case for estates encompassing a business or high value property. If the executor doesn’t want to sell off assets to cover the tax bill, a solicitor may be able to advise on finding a workable solution.
Are there overseas assets?
If the person who has died owned assets overseas, such as property, it may be necessary to access additional legal support. This is because any assets that were held in another country may be subject to the inheritance laws and taxes of that country.
Does the estate contain specialist items?
Specialist or high value items could encompass anything from works of art to cryptocurrency. Whatever the type of specialist item, in these cases it can be helpful to contact a solicitor for advice to ensure that all legal and tax obligations have been met.
Is there a beneficiary who can’t be found?
In the majority of cases, the executor of an estate is likely to already be familiar with all beneficiaries. However, executors are sometimes tasked with distributing an inheritance to a beneficiary they don’t know and aren’t easily able to get in contact with. In these situations, a solicitor would be able to advise on the best next steps.
Has money been left to a charity?
If the Will contains one or more charitable bequests, this can sometimes lead to complications. The charity in question may require a solicitor to check the Will and the estate accounts.
Has everything started to seem overwhelming?
There don’t have to be any specific issues in order for an executor to decide they can no longer manage an estate by themselves. There can be a huge amount of work involved in administering an estate, and at any point an executor might decide they would like the additional support that a solicitor can provide.
Next steps for supporting a client
We always welcome conversations with other professionals about how we can help them to support their clients. If you’re working with a client on a probate issue and come to a point where you need input from a specialist legal professional, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
How Roche Legal can help
We are reassuring experts who can help you with a wide range of legal matters. Please get in touch if you need legal support with:
- Trusts and Estate Planning
- Probate and Estate Administration
- Contested Probate and Will Disputes
- Powers of Attorney
- Court of Protection matters
- Presumption of Death Applications
- Missing Persons Guardianship Applications
Need further help?
If you would like to discuss your role as executor, please contact us.