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What can the executor of an estate be held liable for?

Being named as the executor of an estate for someone who has recently passed away comes with a lot of responsibility. Stephen Browell, specialist wills and probate solicitor at Browell Smith & Co, explains some of the liabilities that an executor assumes when they take on the role.

In brief, being an executor means you have been named as the person responsible for executing the wishes of the deceased, and for administering their estate.

If you are asked, it is important not to underestimate how time-consuming and potentially complex this process can be, and to make sure you are fully aware of the responsibilities and expectations that are put upon the executor.

With care, transparency and attention to detail, it can be done, but it’s not a role that everyone will feel comfortable with.

In this blog, we outline some aspects of being an executor of an estate that we think everyone should know about.

Remember, if you don’t feel comfortable doing this, or if you feel the task is especially complicated (which might be the case if the deceased person had especially complex financial arrangements or requests) then you can always seek the help of a professional.

It can be time-consuming

Don’t underestimate how long this will take. Being an executor can be a time-consuming process, even on simple estates. It also takes a lot of mental energy and organisation. If you don’t think you’ll have the time to spare, then consider getting some help.

You are liable for any mistakes

If you make a mistake while administering the estate, you would be personally liable for any losses that the state incurs as a result of that mistake.

Even small, genuine errors, if not addressed, can quickly become expensive mistakes. Take every precaution to ensure you protect the estate. Take care over every aspect of the price and keep detailed records of what you do, and what payments are made on the estate’s behalf.

Joint responsibility means exactly that

It might seem like a good idea to take on joint executor responsibilities, but you would be jointly responsible for any mistakes the other executor makes.

If your joint executor is not taking reasonable care to perform their role due to an inability to do so or because they do not wish to, it may be in the estates and beneficiaries best interest to ask them to renounce their responsibilities as an executor.

The executors are even responsible for the actions of those who are acting on your behalf – they might not be executors themselves. For example, you might try to save money by hiring a cash-in-hand cleaning company to clean a property that forms part of the estate. If they caused damage to the property whilst cleaning it, then you would be personally liable for that.

You must protect the assets

It is the executor’s responsibility to ensure assets continue to be protected and insured, until ownership has legally passed on. Don’t cancel insurance policies on property just because nobody lives there any more: if property becomes damaged or targeted by criminals, again, you would be liable if you cancelled the insurance prematurely.

Another example would be failure to inform financial institutions that the person has died: If the executor has not taken action to have the bank account frozen they have not taken reasonable care to protect the estate and its assets.

You’re responsible for clearing the estate’s debts

This is an important one. Debts are not wiped when a person dies – they are usually passed on to the estate, and, where possible, must be paid off from proceeds of the estate, such as a house sale or from any remaining cash assets.

If a creditor comes forward after the estate has been settled and assets have been distributed, again, the executor will be personally liable.

Other considerations and liabilities

There are several other issues to take into account: income tax, inheritance tax, welfare payments, bankruptcy searches (including avoiding payments to bankrupt beneficiaries) and locating missing beneficiaries.

We won’t apologise for making this sound daunting: it is best to not take the role of executor lightly, and to treat every aspect of it with the utmost caution. Again, if you would prefer to use the services of a professional to remove some of the burden, and to keep everything as transparent as possible, then Browell Smith & Co can help.

 

Contact our expert team today to arrange a no-obligation chat at any of our offices, in Newcastle, Cramlington, Ashington and Sunderland, or alternatively telephone our team directly on  0191 691 3418 to discuss your particular requirements.

 

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