The principle power of an executor (or administrator) is the right to manage and distribute the estate of a deceased person. An executor must be named in a will, and the role only comes into effect once the person they have been nominated to act as an executor for, dies. They then take on responsibility for managing the estate and distributing it to beneficiaries, acting as a personal representative. If someone dies intestate, (without writing a will) an administrator will be appointed through the probate registry and they carry the same powers as an executor.
‘With great power comes great responsibility’ Voltaire
Both executors and administrators have a statutory duty of care (outlined in the 2000 Trustee Act) to carry out the administration of an estate with care and skill. This broadly means that executors must act in the best interests of the beneficiaries and avoid loss or injury to the estate.
Once someone has taken on their role as an executor and applied successfully for grant of probate, they have the power to access the deceased person’s bank accounts and personal finance documents so that they can identify the assets of the estate and calculate the value of all property. They can also assess debts, estimate Inheritance Tax and pay creditors.
Executors must keep accurate records of all transactions in relation to the estate, as they can be held personally responsible if they make a mistake that diminishes the estate. The statutory duty of care imposed on executors and administrators effectively lasts indefinitely and can be particularly problematic if issues arise after the estate is distributed. If any claims occur at this stage, via creditors or other sources like HMRC, the executor could be forced to pay out of their own pocket.