Many people who rushed to make wills in the pandemic named executors without consulting them first, according to lawyers.
Executors are typically trusted friends or relatives who are tasked with sorting out a will after someone’s death, including doing the administration and distributing assets to beneficiaries.
But three out of four people writing wills don’t discuss their wishes with loved ones, and many also fail to inform their chosen executors even though it can be a time consuming and stressful business, explains Co-op Legal Services.
Important role: Executors are typically trusted friends or relatives who are tasked with sorting out a will after someone’s death
Demand for writing wills soared during the coronavirus outbreak, the challenges of which has led to a temporary law allowing them to be witnessed over video.
Co-op is urging people who have made wills to talk to their executors if they haven’t already done so, and offers tips on what to tell them below.
Should someone refuse to be your executor you might have to change your will, and pay an amendment fee to do so. Co-op would charge £90 plus VAT for this if you had already used its service to make your will.
If you find out you are named an executor by someone and don’t want to do it, you can renounce your role after they die but only if you do this immediately, before undertaking any of the work.
Executors can pay professionals to help, and the cost of this comes out of the estate.
Co-op says will enquiries surged by over two-thirds between the start of the coronavirus lockdown on 23 March and the end of June, and it believes this was partly down to people having more time on their hands.
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But its survey of 2,000 adults in July found 74 per cent hadn’t discussed their wishes with loved ones, and 29 per cent weren’t aware of what executors are meant to do – see below for a rundown of their responsibilities.
The research also found that a quarter of adults have been an executor, and 26 per cent of them found the role stressful, 21 per cent had to take time off work to do it, and 16 per cent were upset by the experience.
James Antoniou, head of wills at Co-op Legal Services, says: ‘Whilst it’s encouraging that so many people have used the lockdown period to put wills in place, it’s important to ensure the right conversations have taken place with their chosen executors to check they’re happy to take on the role and that they understand the responsibility and what’s expected of them.
‘Most UK adults want to depend on friends and family to take up the role of executor, so it’s vital that people understand their options and that the role is properly explained.’
What does being an executor involve?
James Antoniou explains the important tasks of an executor below. He stresses that the rundown is just an overview of the types of things an executor typically has to do and other jobs may also arise.
1. Consider whether you need professional support: Unless you’ve acted as an executor before, it’s unlikely that you’re going to fully understand what needs to be done and how complicated or straightforward things are likely to be.
James Antoniou: An executor can be held personally liable if the estate suffers a loss
Even if the will looks simple, the actual estate administration may still be complicated. It’s best to understand this one way or the other from the outset.
2. Speak to everyone involved: As an executor you have a duty to act in the best interest of the estate and its beneficiaries.
It’s also a possibility that you aren’t the only executor, therefore to avoid conflict and confusion you should keep communication open and honest with everyone close to the deceased.
3. Report the death: The executor will need to report the death to various people and organisations. This includes the Department for Works and Pensions, DVLA, insurers, banks and building societies.
You should also stop incoming payments and outgoing direct debits.
4. Value the estate and pay tax: The value of the estate will determine many important parts of the process so it’s important that is done correctly.
You will need to understand whether exemptions or reliefs apply for the purpose of calculating whether inheritance tax is payable as well as any income tax and capital gains tax liabilities that may arise, so make sure you take professional advice when appropriate.
5. Find out if probate is needed: If the value of the estate exceeds £15,000 it is likely that you will need apply to the Probate Registry for a grant of probate (or version of it). Read more here about how probate works.
6. Keep records and prepare accounts: You must ensure that all estate money is kept separate from your own personal funds so you’ll need to open up separate banking facilities.
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An executor must account for every penny in and out of the deceased’s estate and you should document this in writing for the beneficiaries to approve before the final distribution is made.
7. Don’t take any chances: Remember, an executor can be held personally liable if the estate suffers a loss so, if you’re not sure what to do, take advice from legal professionals that are regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
What should you tell someone you want to be your executor?
James Antoniou suggests discussing the following topics.
1. Explain the duties to ensure that your chosen executor(s) understand the responsibilities.
2. Acknowledge that it’s a time consuming job and ask them if they are happy to give up some time for the role should they need to.
3. Make sure that the executors you choose are able to work together – are there are any personal conflicts you need to be aware of?
4. Don’t forget to thank them! Taking on the role doesn’t come with any extra benefits (although you can leave them a gift in your will if they decide to take up the role).