28 May 2024

What are the duties of the executor of a will?

Being named as an executor in a will is an important responsibility, and means you’ll have earnt the trust of the person making the will. But what do the responsibilities of an executor entail, who can be named as an executor, and can you renounce an executorship? Find out more in our guide.

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An executor is someone named in a will who is legally responsible for handling the deceased's estate. The estate encompasses the deceased person's belongings, finances, property, and possessions. Before you can act as an executor, you may need to obtain legal permission, known as a Grant of Probate.

You may be referred to as an 'administrator', rather than executor, if there is no will, or if those named are unwilling or unable to fulfil the executor role. In these cases, a court would appoint you as an administrator.

In terms of responsibilities, executors must manage the deceased’s assets during the ‘administration period’. This refers to the timeframe starting from the date of death until the moment the assets have been passed onto the beneficiaries.

The specific responsibilities of an executor include paying any debts owed by the deceased, selling assets such as properties, and paying any tax due, as well as reporting the estate value to HMRC.

An administrator is an individual (or professional body) who takes on the responsibility of the deceased’s estate. This could be because there is no will, or the named executors aren’t willing to act.

An administrator must apply for Letters of Administration before they can deal with an estate. This can be done by completing a PA1A along with the death certificate. Additionally, proof of all of the assets owned will be needed, as well as details of any debts.

Most people choose immediate family members as their executors, with spouses, civil partners and children being most commonly appointed.

Anyone over 18 can be an executor, and there’s no rule against people who are among the beneficiaries of your will also being your executor – though it’s worth remembering that an executor can’t be one of the official witnesses to your will.

It can be helpful to appoint an executor with professional, specialist knowledge. It’s worth bearing in mind that, in England and Wales, the executor can be personally (and financially) liable for any mistakes made. Some people appoint a solicitor as an executor for this reason. A solicitor will either charge a fixed fee, an hourly rate or a percentage of the estate. In any case, their cost should be borne by the estate.

If there is no valid will, or the executors have renounced (resigned) nominators, then the next-of-kin can apply to be an administrator in the following order of priority: 

  • The widow of the deceased (the married partner or civil partner of the person who has died).
  • The children or adopted children of the deceased.
  • The child of the person who has died.
  • The grandchild of the person who has died.

The following people are unable to apply for Letters of Administration:

  • The partner, if they weren’t a spouse or civil partner at the time of the deceased’s death.
  • Stepchildren.

Yes, it’s possible to appoint a professional executor of a will, such as solicitors, accountants or banks. This is an alternative to appointing family members or friends.

Some people choose to appoint a solicitor as an executor because they want professional, specialist knowledge. In England and Wales, the executor can be personally (and financially) liable for any mistakes made. Some people appoint a solicitor as an executor for this reason.

A solicitor will either charge a fixed fee, an hourly rate or a percentage of the estate. In any case, their cost should be borne by the estate.

Pros and cons of appointing a professional executor

Is it worth getting an external executor for a will? Here are some advantages and disadvantages.


  • Suitable for complicated estates if your knowledge is limited
  • Expert guidance and knowledge based on experience
  • Support on your tax responsibilities and any legal issues.


  • It costs money and can be expensive
  • The executor may take a share of the estate's value as payment
  • You may trust a family member automatically, whereas it might take time to find the right a professional executor at the right price. You can find a solicitor through the Law Society's website.

Some people choose more than one executor so that the responsibilities are shared. It can be a good idea to select more than one executor, just in case one executor passes away, or seeks a renunciation of their executor role. Up to four can act at a time, though having that many executors could cause confusion.

In some cases, it might be difficult to find an executor of a will. For example:

  • You don’t have a friend or family member who’s willing to be an executor.  
  • You can’t afford a professional executor.
  • The executors have renounced the will. 

In these instances, the will is still valid but there would need to be a Letters of Administration application. Once the administrator or executor has applied for Letters of Administration – or a Grant of Probate – and are accepted, they cannot resign without the agreement of the court.

A last resort could be to appoint the Public Trustee. This is where a government official acts as an executor, and often happens in cases where the executor would be unable to manage their financial affairs due to a disability.

While a Public Trustee is able to act in a similar way to most executors, they are unable to manage a business in their role as executors, and the estate will have to be solvent.  

You should bear in mind that the role of executor can be a demanding one. Executors are responsible for often complex financial transactions, including the payment of taxes and disposing of property. The main duties of an executor can include the following:

  • Paying any bills owed by the estate.
  • Working out whether any Inheritance Tax is due, and paying it.
  • Applying for Probate.
  • Paying any other taxes.
  • Valuing and distributing the estate according to the will.
  • Making any court appearances required.

Executors may also be responsible for registering the death, informing any relatives, and making practical arrangements for the funeral.

At a minimum, making a will should take two weeks, but in reality, the whole process can take several months or even longer. Delays can occur because the testator has to arrange to meet the solicitors – if taking the traditional route – before receiving a draft copy, with the potential for changes.

1. Check the latest will

You should first check that the will you’re using is the latest version, and that you’re named as an executor. You should carry out a thorough search of the deceased’s paperwork, and, if they have a solicitor, contact them to make sure there isn’t a more up-to-date version of the will.

2. Check for any funeral plans

Check the will and paperwork to see whether the deceased had any insurance or a pre-paid plan that will help pay for their funeral.

3. Make funeral arrangements

Also check to see whether the deceased left any specific requests or instructions relating to their funeral. As the executor you will be responsible for paying for the funeral, in the absence of any insurance, though you will be able to claim this cost back from the deceased’s estate. The deceased’s bank may also agree to release enough money from the estate’s accounts to cover these costs.

4. Value the estate

To do this you need to be clear about precisely what the deceased owned, and what they owed. You’ll need to check through all their paperwork to track down banks, insurance companies, employers, pension providers and utility suppliers to notify them of the death, as well as HMRC, the Department for Work and Pensions and the local council. You should also take this opportunity to find out how much the deceased owed or was due from them when they died.

5. Apply for Probate

A Grant of Probate gives you permission to administer someone’s estate after they’ve died. You have to apply for this by completing a form from the Probate Registry. Before you can apply for grant of probate you’ll need to have paid any Inheritance Tax due. Once this is done, you can apply to the Probate Registry to gain the legal authority granted by probate to deal with the deceased’s assets. When probate is granted you should send copies of it to any organisations which hold some or all of the deceased’s money and ask them to release it to you.

6. Place a deceased estates notice

Once you’ve obtained the grant of probate, letter of administration or death certificate, you can place a Deceased Estate Notice with The Gazette – the UK’s official public record. While this isn’t a legal obligation, the advantage of doing so is that it can alert creditors to make any claims on unpaid debts, which shows that you’ve taken reasonable steps to repay the money if any disputes occur. When the notice is placed, creditors have two months and one day to make a claim.

7. Open an executor bank account

This ensures you have a bank account where you can hold the financial assets of the deceased.

8. Pay off any outstanding debts

Once you have collected all the money, you must pay off the deceased’s debts before distributing any of it. This will include any Income Tax and other tax owed, so tax returns will have to be completed first.#

9. Distribute the estate

You’ll need to make the distribution according to the will. This could include remaining money, property and possessions.

10. Complete the accounts

These would show all the deceased's financial assets, what was paid out and how the remainder was distributed. They will need to be approved and signed by the beneficiaries of the will.

Depending on how much the estate is worth, there may be Inheritance Tax to be paid. You’ll have to pay this and prove it’s been paid, or that there is none due, before you can apply for a Grant of Probate.

If there is Inheritance Tax due you’ll need to complete the tax form IHT400. If there is no Inheritance Tax due, you’ll need to complete the form IHT205.

Is there Inheritance Tax due on the estate?

It may be difficult for you to pay an Inheritance Tax bill before being granted probate, as you won’t be able to access any money in the deceased’s estate until probate is granted. In a case like this, you should check to see whether the deceased had a life insurance policy in trust, as this would pay out even without probate. Alternatively, you could talk to the deceased’s bank, as sometimes they will agree to release an amount direct to HMRC for Inheritance Tax without probate.

Renunciation as executor of a will

In England and Wales, a named executor can resign the role at any time by signing a document called a Deed of Renunciation or a Letter of Renunciation. There are many reasons why someone might wish to renounce their executor responsibilities, from ill health to a lack of spare time.

It’s better to renounce an executorship sooner rather than later, as legal complications can arise once the estate administration has started. There are different laws across the UK if you wish to change the executor of a will – see Citizens Advice Scotland or NI Direct for more information.

If someone resigns as an executor, an alternative person will need to take their place if there is no executor left, otherwise the courts will need to appoint an administrator. If there are still executors in place, they can apply for probate, provided the will doesn’t request a certain number of executors as a pre-condition. You can still be a beneficiary of a will even if you’ve renounced your executorship.

Yes, if you’re a named executor but you’d rather someone else dealt with the will, you can appoint an attorney using form PA11 available on GOV.UK. Read more about applying for Power of Attorney.

How to remove an executor of a will

If someone is refusing to carry out their obligations as the executor of a will, you should firstly try and resolve the situation amicably, and if necessary, write them a letter to explain that an application will be made to the court if they refuse to apply for a grant of probate. In some situations, you can serve them a formal notice from the Probate Registry known as a citation, which instructs the executor to apply for probate or renounce their executorship.

If you have serious concerns that an executor is not fulfilling their duties in accordance with the will, you can make an application to the courts, who have the power to remove an executor in limited circumstances; for example, if they’re stealing from the estate or failing to keep accurate records.

If someone has died without a will in place, that person’s money and assets will be distributed according to a legal default known as intestacy. Read more about what happens if you die without a will.

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