I think I am an executor or an administrator. What does it mean and what should I do first?
Executors and administrators are both personal representatives.
Executors and administrators are also known as personal representatives. They must be over 18 years old and be of sound mind. You will often find reference to personal representatives, so if you are an executor or an administrator it means you! The distinction between an executor and an administrator is whether there is a valid will or not.
Executors are appointed by the Will and their powers and duties happen as soon as the person has died. You do not have to accept the appointment as an executor, or you may not be capable of accepting the appointment. You can renounce the position which then allows the next person(s) who would be entitled to apply for the Grant of Probate to be appointed instead. There may be another executor named in the Will or a beneficiary can take the role.
Another option, if there is another executor appointed under the Will, is to have power reserved to you, which allows you as Executor to become involved at a later point if you so wish. You are not relinquishing your position as executor completely. A further Grant will have to be applied for, if you later decide to become involved in dealing with the administration or distribution of the estate.
If you decide to renounce or have power reserved to you, then you must not be involved in dealing with the person’s assets or the administration of the estate at any point (unless you apply for a further Grant at a later point if you have power reserved to you). You must act quickly and inform either the other executor of the family or beneficiaries, as soon as possible so alternative arrangements can be made. A beneficiary cannot appoint themselves as an executor where there are named executors who are willing to act.
Similarly, if there are no executors, or the executors have refused to accept their appointment, then one of the beneficiaries can apply to be appointed. They would be an administrator. The grant applied for will be a Grant of Letters of Administration with Will annexed.
If there is only one executor appointed under the will and they do not have capacity to act, but they have an attorney acting on their behalf under a registered power of attorney, then the attorney can apply for the Grant instead. The attorney would also be appointed as an administrator. Again, the Grant applied for would be a Grant of Letters of Administration with will annexed.
An administrator is appointed by a Grant and should only start dealing with the person’s affairs once the Grant has been issued. Registration of the death and funeral arrangements can be dealt with, but you should not start dealing with the assets other than to find out what assets there are and obtain the values of the assets, to apply for the Grant of Letters of Administration.
Where there is no will the estate is said to be intestate. If there is a will but no executor named or the named executors do not accept the appointment the estate is not intestate and the grant applied for has the Will attached to it and the Grant applied for will be the Grant of Letters of Administration with Will annexed.
If relatives cannot agree who should be the administrator then priority is given to the closest adult relative, starting with the spouse or civil partner.
What should be done as soon as possible?
Whether you are the executor or an administrator there are certain steps that should be taken as soon as you are aware the person has died. Maybe you were not aware someone had named you as an executor and it is only once the death has been registered that you have been approached by a family member, that you find out.
Registering the Death and Funeral Arrangements
Firstly, as an executor you need to see the Will, if there is one. The Will or other documents may indicate what funeral arrangements the person wanted, or whether they had a funeral plan.
The family may have already registered the death and made funeral arrangements. Any funeral wishes are not binding so don’t panic, if the arrangements have already been made and they aren’t exactly as you feel they should be. The family arranging the funeral is not a problem. Allowing family to make the arrangements can often assist them in the grieving process.
However, if the death has not been registered, no funeral arrangements have been made and there is no close family who wish to be involved, then as executor you will need to deal with these arrangements.
Once the appropriate person or people have made the necessary funeral arrangements any invoice relating to the funeral should be given to the person dealing with the estate (executor or administrator) The invoice can generally be sent to the bank to deal with direct payment to the funeral directors.
Property & Cars
As the personal representative, it is your responsibility to ensure that all the person’s assets are secure and protected. You will be responsible if anything goes missing, is stolen or is damaged before the estate is finalised.
All assets such as property and vehicles must be made secure, if needs be. If the assets are jointly owned this will not be an issue of course because the property passes to the joint owner, although the asset will need to be valued at some point to complete the necessary papers to obtain the Grant.
If the property is not jointly owned then collect keys together, not forgetting any extra sets that may be held by neighbours or friends. Check all windows and doors are secure when you leave the property after any visit.
It would be sensible to clear the fridge and turn it off leaving the door open so it doesn’t get rancid and smelly.
Clear any perishable food stuffs and open packets so you don’t attract mice or other nasties!
Remove items from the house, such as cash and bank cards as well as items that have a significant value (that are moveable), such as the Picasso painting in the bathroom! There is no need to go through everything with a fine-tooth comb, provided the property is secure.
If the property will be empty, it is very important to contact the property insurers to confirm this. Many insurers will allow the current policy to continue until the end of its term but they may require you to carry out certain checks at regular intervals. We would suggest that weekly checks are sensible anyway. As the personal representatives, you are responsible for looking after the assets. If no one will be checking the property for significant periods the insurer may also require the water and gas supplies to be turned off. There may be a further premium to pay to keep the property sufficiently insured. Do not leave the property un-insured and check the insurance policy requirements carefully!
On leaving the property it is worth taking meter readings for gas and electric. Make sure all sockets are off and items unplugged to prevent fire hazards.
Cash and Bank Cards
Other practical things to consider and gather together would be bank and credit or store cards. Check handbags and wallets for cash. Many older people may have hidden cash or jewellery in their home, under beds or in linen cupboards or drawers. At this stage, you are having a general look to check for obvious things that could be used or taken by someone else, without your knowledge.
Information to try and locate at the property or amongst the persons personal belongings
Gather any information you can find relating to any bank accounts, share certificates, pensions, life insurance, household or other insurance policies, benefits, utility bills, phones including mobiles and any other items that may indicate there are other assets held anywhere else.
You do not need every bit of paperwork amongst the belongings only the most recent bank statements, documents and letters just so you have the correct information to be able to contact the relevant institution for details of the person’s current assets that they hold or what insurance policy there may be. Any historic bank statements or documents, provided you have more recent correspondence, can be disposed of.
Lastly before the next stage
Organise a postal redirect so any post to the property can be delivered to a more convenient address if necessary. It is probably worth arranging this for an initial period of 6 months.
Of course, this is only a guide for what usually happens, there will always be exceptions, some of those will be dealt with in the guide ‘Valuing the Deceased’s Estate’ You can always seek advice from the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, the LegalBeagles Forum or obtain legal advice. You may be able to find a local law firm who offers fixed fee prices of initial appointments in your locality. You can search for local law firms who offer these services on the JustBeagle.com website.
If you have recently lost someone and believe that you are the person who needs to deal with their estate, these guides may help you. The guides will assist you in all the steps necessary to deal with a simple estate, that is below the threshold to pay any Inheritance Tax, from registering the death to distributing the estate.Citizens Advice or National Debtline. Or for informal help and support you can visit the Forum
We now feature a number of specialist Probate solicitors on our sister site, JustBeagle.com