I’ve spoken with a lot of people, both in and outside of work, who have been appointed as an executor in a Will and have decided to deal with Probate and the estate themselves. Whilst there is nothing to stop people from doing this, I come across so many misconceptions about the process and costs involved, it can be quite alarming!
Whether a deceased’s estate is ‘simple’ or not; whether their Will seems on the face of things to be valid or not; whether a person is confident with paperwork or not, there can be serious personal consequences for anyone acting as an executor who gets it wrong. I would always advise, regardless of what the assets are or how much they amount to, that you get legal assistance if you’re acting as executor, if not for the whole administration then for some input at some stage, for your own protection in your role. The seriousness of the role should not be underestimated.
It is true that professionals dealing with estates will charge a fee for their services. Neves’ fees range from a fixed fee for less than one hundred pounds for an initial advice meeting, to a fixed fee in the hundreds of pounds for getting the Grant of Probate, to our hourly rate stretching into the thousands for fully administering a complex taxable estate. As you’ll agree, there’s a real range of costs, all dependent on the level of support you think you require. It’s worth bearing in mind that the consequences of lay executors failing to deal with the administration properly could personally cost them tens of thousands of pounds, if not much more, and far in excess of any legal fees they would have paid for a professional service.
We regularly see mistakes made by executors, mistakes which have led to financial consequences for the executors personally. Some consequences have come to light immediately and others could come to light at a later stage. It never ceases to amaze me how often executors either don’t understand the Will and distribute the estate incorrectly without seeking any legal clarification, or simply ignore the Will! Whether the failure to follow the Will was by accident on purposes, it leaves executors vulnerable.
Executors must make sure that the estate pays all debts it owes before distributing the money to the beneficiaries. This includes liabilities arising during the administration period, such as income tax. If executors distribute the estate and a liability (or liabilities) comes to light after the money has been split, the executor is personally liable for this debt and must pay it from their own pocket, regardless of whether or not the deceased had a record of the debt when they died.
There are steps which executors are able to take to protect themselves against unknown creditors, and also against any person bringing a claim against the deceased’s estate. Without instructing professional assistance, executors may not know how to do this, or that this is even possible.
It is ultimately the beneficiaries that the executors are accountable to and executors are legally required to provide beneficiaries with a full account showing all financial transactions during the period of administration. The amount of times that I’ve seen executors haven’t done this, either property or at all, is countless! Some executors are shocked to hear that they’ve not carried out their duties properly, whereas others simply do not care or are happy to take the risk.
I would always advise not to take any risks with estate administration, and the points I’ve highlighted here are just a handful of the reasons as to why. Our Private Client team here in Milton Keynes are always happy to have an initial conversation with you; we appreciate it can be very stressful dealing with a friend or family member’s affairs after they’ve died, please be assured that any matter will be handled with sensitivity. Get in touch with us if you think we can help, or if you would like to find out more about what being an executor entails.