Skip to main content

Lorraine Wilson considers the role of an executor.

What is an executor?

An executor is the person (or persons) with responsibility for dealing with the administration of the estate of a deceased individual. The executor is named in the will and their role is to ensure that the estate is administered and distributed according to the terms of the will.

A will should name at least one executor, but it is common to appoint at least two persons to act as executors. Where the executors are also appointed to act as trustees, there must be a minimum of two.

It is possible to appoint replacement executors in the event that the ‘first choice’ executors have died or are unable to carry out their duties for whatever reason.

Who should I appoint as the executor?

Your executors should be people who you trust completely to handle your assets following your death and enforce the wishes set out in your will. An executor can be a beneficiary of the estate and it is common to appoint your closest family members, such as your spouse or children, but this may not always be appropriate.

Depending on the circumstances, it may be sensible to appoint ‘independent’ executors, such as a friend or relative who are not due to benefit from the estate. It is also possible to appoint a professional person, such as a solicitor or accountant, as an executor. This may be appropriate if there are no suitable relatives or friends, or if you would prefer them not to carry the burden of various duties and responsibilities that come with being an executor. Appointing a professional executor may be sensible if your assets are more complicated, for example if you have business interests or shares which may require management after your death.

Duties of an executor

One of the first steps an executor should take is to ensure that the estate’s property and assets are safe and secured. The executors owe a responsibility to the beneficiaries of the estate for the safeguarding of the estate assets.

This includes taking responsibility for the keys of any property, collecting the wallet or credit/debit cards, and ensuring that the property and contents are secure. The executors must also ensure that adequate insurance cover is in place, particularly where a property is left unoccupied.

Executors will often have responsibility for arranging the funeral, taking into account any wishes the deceased may have left, and for registering the death with the local registry office.

Executors must ascertain the value of all assets and liabilities in the estate by making thorough enquiries and obtaining professional valuations where necessary. It is the executor’s duty to correctly report the estate to HMRC, pay any inheritance tax and to apply for the grant of probate. Personal liability can be incurred by an executor who fails to fulfil their duties, or incorrectly reports the tax position of the estate.
Once the grant of probate has been obtained, the executors must deal with gathering and collecting the assets of the estate. This might include closing bank accounts, selling properties, and selling or transferring investments. Estate monies should be separated from the executor’s own funds, for example in a specific executors’ bank account. The executor must also ensure that all debts of the estate are paid from estate funds. Ultimately, the executor must ensure the estate is distributed in accordance with the terms of the will and provide a full account to the beneficiaries.

Executors often have further reporting requirements throughout the course of administering an estate. For example, there may be an obligation to report to HMRC income tax or capital gains tax payable by the estate.


The role of an executor is an important one and involves a number of duties when dealing with the estate of a deceased person. An executor acts in a fiduciary capacity and can incur personal liability if things go wrong. Whilst these duties may seem daunting, our team of specialists can assist with every step of the process, giving executors peace of mind that they have fulfilled their legal responsibilities.

For further guidance on the role of an executor or support with administering an estate, contact our probate solicitors.