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An Executor's Duties

An executor is appointed in a will to administer the estate after the death. It is usual, and sensible, to seek the agreement of the executor before the appointment is made. After the death, the executors' duties are defined in what is called 'the executor's oath.' The duties are in general

"to collect, get in, and administer according to law the ... estate of the deceased" in accordance with the terms of the will.

Often, executors make the arrangements for the funeral, and when doing so, make themselves personally liable for the funeral account. If they do this they are entitled to be indemnified from the estate.

The extent to which an executor carries out his duties personally varies very widely. In some estates, there is very little to do beyond the closure and distribution of one or two building society accounts. Other estates can require substantially more work.

It is a question each time to be asked whether the executor wishes to ask a firm of solicitors to carry out most of the work, or, indeed, if a firm is so instructed, to agree between them who will do which tasks. Inevitably the administration of the estate takes place against an emotional background, and people react very differently to bereavement. At Swarbrick and Co, we try not to set down hard and fast rules as to the apportionment of the work. The executor can choose to delegate almost all the work to the solicitor, or to do the entire job himself, or to make any other arrangement in between.

At a minimum, however, the executor can expect to be involved in a certain amount of correspondence and signing of documents. It would be usual also for the executor to do much of the initial work of locating and identifying assets in the estate and also where there are gifts of particular items to arrange for the distribution of these items.

Whatever happens, an executor is entitled to have his proper expenses paid out of the estate, so the task should not normally be a financial burden.

Where people do go wrong from time to time, is in under estimating the need to comply precisely with several of the law's requirements. For example, it is common, but quite wrong, for executors to distribute items from the estate to family members but not in accordance with the terms of the will. 'He always said I could have the clock.' may be true, but, if it isn't what was said I the will, it wasn't the last thing she said on the matter.

Last, it is perhaps worth dispelling the myth of the "reading of the will", where the executors, solicitor, and beneficiaries gather together amid great suspense, and simmering acrimony, to reveal the contents of the will. This happens very rarely, if at all.

Important: Please note that our law-bytes are retained for archival purposes only. The law changes, and these notes are often, now, out of date. You must take direct advice on your own personal situation and the law as it currently stands.
All information on this site is in general and summary form only. The content of any page on this site may be out of date and or incomplete, and you should not not rely directly upon it. Take direct professional legal advice which reflects your own particular situation.
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Copyright and Database Rights: David Swarbrick 2012
18 October 2013 58 18 October 2013