Heather Lally, Associate Solicitor and Estate & Trust Practitioner examines whether a non-professional Executor can administer an Estate themselves, and whether they should.
Before taking advice, I have heard Executors appointed by Will saying "I could do it myself..." You have probably said this yourself when contemplating some work on your property or such like. The questions that need to be asked is whether:
1 You should
2 Whether you have the time, knowledge and skill to ensure it is done correctly!
The first thing to do when you find you have been appointed as an Executor of an estate by Will, following a death, is to take advice. If following that initial meeting there is nothing for a Solicitor to do, there will be no charge for telling you that. What it will do is put your mind at rest and set you on the right track for things you may not have thought about that may need addressing. It doesn't matter if the Law Firm you take advice from is not the firm that drafted the Will, you are free to choose who advises you.
What's involved at an initial meeting ? The Solicitor will ask you a series of questions to get the full picture as to the assets and liabilities of the estate. They will also look at who the beneficiaries are, the relationship amongst the people in question and whether there is likely to be any challenge to the estate from family members. Some may have not benefitted at all, some may have benefitted but not quite as much as they believed they should have. There may be potential creditors to the estate, there may also be good reasons to seek to vary the terms of a Will by Deed, perhaps for tax purposes.
It is these kind of issues that are often not considered by a non-professional Executor, along with ensuring any queries from benefit agencies regarding benefits received in the lifetime are properly addressed and making sure that the pre-death and post death tax affairs are finalised correctly. Recent rules have brought about changes in tax reporting and for certain estates there is now a requirement for them to be registered online for tax purposes. It is important that deadlines are not missed to avoid HM Revenue & Customs issuing penalties and charging interest.
For low value, straight forward estates involving only nominal funds in bank accounts (estates worth less than £5,000) follow the small estates procedure or joint assets that pass by survivorship, a Grant of Probate (the legal document) to enable the Executor to encash the assets, may not be needed. This is something a non-professional Executor may be happy to deal with themselves. Especially where the Executor is also the sole beneficiary. If there are other beneficiaries the Executor must be aware that they are liable to ensure correct administration and distribution of the estate.
When buildings and / or land are held in a sole name or in beneficial shares, it is likely that a Grant of Probate will be required. A personal application can be made to the Probate Registry but a declaration must be made as to the date of death values of the estate. It is important that those values are correct, including interest accrued to the date of death, dividend payments, NS&I prizes, liabilities owed at the date of death and such like are included.
Once an Executor has attempted to deal with an estate, they cannot stand down, as they are regarded as having "intermeddled" in the estate. However, if, as often is the case, things get a bit too complicated, time consuming, or confusing for the non-professional Executor, we can assist in finalising the estate administration, preparing the Estate Accounts and ensuring all matters are properly dealt with.
If you have any questions regarding the above or related to Wills, Trusts and Probate, please contact Heather or one of the team at FDR Law today for advice.