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A Guide to Dealing with Will Executors and Administrators

Are you worried about being named as an executor in someone’s will? Have you been named an executor, or are you unsure what an administrator or executor would need to do? In fact, what is the difference is between an administrator and an executor?

This quick guide to administrators and executors will help you.

Who administrates your estate?

Usually, the person who’ll be looking after or managing your affairs when you die is someone you knew. It’s known as ‘administering your estate’, but there is a difference between an administrator and an executor.

  • An executor is a person, nominated in a will, to oversee the managing of someone’s estate after they die. Usually, an executor will know they’ve been nominated in advance. You can nominate anyone who’s suitable and over the age of 18, or more than one person if you prefer, and your solicitor or will-maker will ask you to confirm it’s an appropriate choice.
  • An administrator is responsible for managing the estate when there is no will, or when the will doesn’t name an executor or when an executor decides not to (or can’t) do the work. Then, an administrator takes up the executor’s responsibilities.

When does an administrator get chosen?

If a will doesn’t nominate an executor, then a close family member or a friend will have to ask permission to become an administrator. This can be done by applying for a letter of administration, which authorises the person to carry out all the work necessary.

The Intestacy Rules set out an order of priority of those relatives who are entitled to benefit from the Estate. Essentially these relatives are entitled to apply to be an Administrator and obtain a Grant of Letters of Administration, which would then enable them to deal with the administration. The order of priority is:

1.             Surviving spouse or civil partner

2.             Sons or daughters

3.             Parents

4.            Brothers and sisters

5.             More distant relatives

What do executors and administrators do?

The executors or administrators of a will are responsible for following the instructions in that document, as much as is appropriate and possible. Typically, this will include:

  • Sending copies of the death certificate to financial organisations  
  • Asking banks and building societies to freeze bank accounts so that no monies are paid without permission
  • Making sure money is paid where necessary – perhaps to pay household bills 
  • Opening a bank account to help administrate the estate
  • Making a list of all the estate’s assets and debts
  • Checking for signs of anyone who owes money to the estate
  • Finding out if there are any debtors to whom the estate owes money
  • Working out how much inheritance tax is due and arranging to pay it
  • Sending documents to HM Revenue and Customs and the Probate Registry
  • Distributing the estate, as per the will or according to the rules of intestacy (if the person didn’t make a will)

If you’re unhappy with an executor’s work…

Being an executor can be straightforward – or it may be time-consuming and involve handling complex aspects of someone’s finances. Most estates are handled well, but each one is unique.

If there’s a dispute about the will, or you’re unhappy with the way an estate is being handled, then there’s a formal process you need to follow.

First, ask the executor to make a record of the estate’s administration – confirming what’s been done to date. If you’re unsatisfied with what’s happened, then you can apply to the courts for a substitute executor. For that to happen, the court will need to substantiate their decision. Likely reasons would include inaccurate accounting, not obeying a court order, or removing money from the estate without a reason.   

And if you don’t want to be an executor…

It can happen. Sometimes, a person will nominate an individual to be the executor of their estate – and that person doesn’t feel able to act in that role. There’s no obligation. All you have to do, is to complete a ‘Form of Renunciation’ form and send it to your local Probate Registry along with a copy of the will. Alternatively, you can name someone else as the executor on your behalf. In that case, you’ll need to send a copy of the person’s details to the Probate Registry (and a copy of the will) along with form PA1.   

If you choose not the be the executor, then the Probate Registry will either appoint an alternative or wait to receive an application for letters of administration from someone connected to the estate.