What does an executor do

When a person dies somebody has to sort out his or her estate. This person is known as the executor if named as such in the will.

Probate, property and possessions (their estate)
If there is no executor named, your solicitor or the sheriff clerk will arrange for the court to appoint an executor called an "executor dative". An executor dative will normally be the surviving spouse or civil partner. If there is no such person, another person entitled to inherit from the estate may be able to apply.

An executor must:

  • make an inventory (a list) all the money, furniture, savings and any house or other property belonging to the person who died. This is known collectively as his/her "estate";
  • pay inheritance tax, if this due. For deaths on or after 6 April 2004, inheritance tax is not, in general, payable unless the total value of the deceased's estate together with any property life rented and any gifts made within 7 years of the death exceeds £263,000. This amount changes over time. You can get further information and advice about inheritance tax from Inland Revenue - Capital Taxes;
  • obtain confirmation to the estate. Confirmation is the legal document which gives the executor authority to receive payments due to the estate and to make payments due on the estate. Confirmation may not be required in some small estates;
  • "in-gather" the estate; and
  • distribute the estate to those entitled to it.

Does an executor need a lawyer?

It is possible for an executor to handle an estate without any legal help, but they may decide to employ a solicitor to help them. Even if someone decides to do it without legal help, he or she may want to seek advice on specific points from a Citizens Advice Bureau or a solicitor. The executor's out of pocket expenses, including any lawyer's charges, are met from the deceased's estate.

Dealing with a large estate or one where a house or other property is involved can often be very complicated and time consuming. In the event of any mistakes being made, the executor is legally responsible. If an executor is in any doubt about his or her ability to carry out the correct procedures, or if there is any dispute, the executor is strongly advised to consult a solicitor. You may already have a solicitor your family uses. If not, ask friends or family if they can recommend one. When you contact them remember to ask about their fees and charges.


A to Z of services