The role and responsibilities of an executor

Feb 28, 2023 | Wills & Estates

After someone dies their affairs need to be put in order and their money, property and possessions distributed. An executor is legally responsible for carrying out the wishes of the deceased person according to their will. If the person died with a valid will, the executor or executors, if there is more than one, will be named in the will and are usually aware of the role they are expected to fulfil after the person’s death.

Have you been appointed an executor of a will?

If you have been appointed as an executor or co-executor of a will, you will have a number of important functions to fulfil. Depending on the size of the estate it can be a lot of work and it may seem complicated and confusing to know what to do and when, a solicitor will be able to advise you at each step of the probate process and their fees can be paid from the estate.

You should keep a record of anything you do as executor so that you can answer any questions regarding how the estate was administered. It is also worth noting that you are entitled to be paid reasonable expenses for your time and any costs incurred while fulfilling the role of executor.

What does an executor do?

There are a number of key responsibilities for an executor. Although not all of the following duties will be relevant in each situation, below are the main tasks.

  • Register the death of the person and obtain copies of their will.
  • As soon as possible after the death, ensure the deceased’s property is secure. This may be real estate or other items of property such as vehicles, or bank accounts, but should also include taking responsibility for their post, emails, etc.
  • Check whether or not a grant of probate will be required. If so, then apply to HMRC.
  • Collect all of the assets of the deceased person including property, money and personal possessions such as jewellery, furniture, artwork, etc., and value the estate.
  • Identify and collect any money or other items owed to the estate.
  • Pay any outstanding debts such as credit card bills, mortgage payments and any tax that is due, including inheritance tax, if relevant.
  • Distribute the assets to the beneficiaries of the will.
  • Sometimes the executor will have responsibility for organising the funeral.

What if you don’t want to be the executor?

Normally a person should discuss and ask you about being an executor before you are named in the will. If you have agreed to be an executor but subsequently change your mind, if the testator is still alive the simplest solution may be to have a frank discussion with them and explain why you no longer wish to be the executor, and they will be able to change their will. If, however, the testator has died but you have not yet started working on the estate you should contact the Principal Probate Registry or your solicitor to discuss the options.

If you have already been involved in the estate, it is difficult to step down from being an executor without a very good reason, such as on health grounds or for a family emergency. However, there can be up to four executors named in a will and although the responsibility is shared jointly from a legal perspective, it is possible that one or other of your co-executors will be happy to undertake more of the duties required.

Can an executor also be a beneficiary?

As it is usual that an executor will be a spouse, child, family member, or close friend of the deceased, it would be unfair to ban them from inheriting under the will. An executor is required to act in good faith and in the interests of all beneficiaries and not just themselves when fulfilling their role.

A witness to a will, however, is not entitled to benefit from the will and therefore it is important for an executor not to act as a witness to the will as this would invalidate their entitlement to an inheritance.


An executor is an essential person in ensuring the probate process is conducted as efficiently as possible and that the deceased’s estate is distributed according to their wishes. It important to be informed of what the role entails before you accept the responsibility.

If you or someone you know wants more information or needs help or advice, please contact us on (023) 9225 9822 or email [email protected]

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O’Hara Properties & Estates is an independent estate agents with a wealth of experience selling property in the Waterlooville and surrounding areas.