Following an individual’s death their estate will need to be administered. This involves identifying all of the person’s assets (such as property, bank accounts, shares, etc.), gathering them all in and paying all the debts of the estate and any inheritance tax that may be due. The rest of the estate is then distributed to the beneficiaries following the terms of any will, or if there is no will, in accordance with the rules of intestacy.

The people responsible for doing the estate administration are known as executors (if there is a will) or administrators if there is no will. There is little practical difference between an executor and administrator – their role is almost identical. Together they are known as “personal representatives” (PRs).

What duties does a PR owe?

In addition to the general duties to deal with the estate properly, a PR owes a number of key duties to beneficiaries, which include:

  • To act in accordance with the terms of the will (if there is one)
  • not placing themselves in a position where their own interests conflict with those of the beneficiaries
  • not placing themselves in a position where they profit from their position at the expense of the beneficiaries
  • to treat all the beneficiaries equally

Do you have to act as an executor if appointed?

The role of a PR is often a difficult task, especially in circumstances where there are strained family relationships before the death of the individual. The fact that an individual is named as an executor in a will does not mean that person has to accept that role.

If they decide before they start administering the estate and acting as a PR, (known as “intermeddling”), that they do not want to accept the role, they can “renounce” the position and walk away. However, they cannot simply walk away from the role once they have a grant of probate. They can then only be removed by an order of the court.

Issues relating to executors and administrators

The role of a PR is important and comes with a great number of duties which can lead to concerns. We can advise PRs or concerned beneficiaries about such matters: