Help! I’m the executor for my parents’ wills

An older man and a younger woman looking at a photo album together. Picture in black and white.

Depending on your family dynamics, being executor for your parents’ wills can feel like a final act of love. Or a final burden. Or something in between.

As we get older, we get increasing glimpses into our own mortality. My first (very niche) glimpse was when my parents had to get their cat put down. They then told me that they weren’t going to get another cat in case it outlived them. Now, I’ve been appointed an executor for both my parents’ wills. I’m 47 years old, but it still feels like a very grown-up responsibility.

In the interests of calming myself down and helping others who are full of questions, many of which seem very morbid, I’ve had a chat with Nina Sperring, Head of Wills, Ttrusts and Estates at Weightmans, a Liverpool-based law firm.

Who can be an executor?

Before anyone gets any avaricious designs on their parents’ estate – or estates, if they are not together – Nina is quick to point out that you can’t impose yourself as an executor of someone else’s will.

“Your parents need to personally appoint the executors in their will by stating the name of the person they choose,” she explains. “It is possible to appoint up to four executors, or it’s possible to appoint a professional executor, such as a solicitor or accountant.”

It’s important to get the basics right so the will is valid. Nina said executors should be over 18 years of age and of sound mind.

Read more: Talking to your family about making a will

“Some people do appoint children who are under 18, on the basis that they will be 18 when the time comes, but this is obviously risky, as at least one of the executors will need to be aged 18 or over to make an application for probate, should this be required to administer the estate,” she cautions.

An older man and a younger woman sat together looking concerned. The younger girl being executor of her parents' will.

(Image: Models of Pexels)

Probate, in case you’re unsure, is the legal process of proving a will is valid and giving the executors the legal authority to distribute the estate. This is where it is handy to have the support of someone with legal qualifications. To apply for probate, the Probate Registry needs a copy of the will, the death certificate, and an inventory of the assets.

Having some professional help may also ease the emotional burden

The Probate Registry reviews the documents to make sure it’s a valid will and the executors are qualified to administer the estate. Unsurprisingly, this process isn’t free. The cost depends on the value of the estate – around £200 for estates worth less than £50,000 and around £1,000 for estates worth more than £50,000.

“There are situations where the executors may wish to consult a legal advisor, for example if probate is required to administer the will and the executors are young or inexperienced,” says Nina. “Having some professional help may also ease the emotional burden for them.”

What does the admin process look like?

Nina says the first step is for the executors to check if probate is required to administer the estate: “It can be complex and time consuming at a distressing time.”

Once the certificate is issued by the probate court, this allows the executors to sell property, collect in cash and other assets, and pay the debts, Nina explains.

“As part of the probate process, the executor or executors will need to estimate the value of the person’s estate and find out if the estate has inheritance tax to pay,” Nina continues. “This tax is paid once the estate has been valued, and it is best to pay it within six months to avoid any interest becoming payable.”

Someone in a yellow raincoat, writing in a journal.

(Image: Pexels)

What if there’s a dispute?

The sad reality is that sometimes families fall out. Or people behave in unexpected ways that can manifest themselves in wills. For example, you might be made executor of a parental will, you receive your copy for safekeeping and there’s something in there that you’re not happy about. It could be anything from someone being cut out, to a parent leaving thousands to a pigeon racing club. However, there isn’t much you can do about this during what Mike and the Mechanics called the living years.

…it is important that open, honest conversations should take place

“If you have been named as an executor and your parents are still alive, you could try talking to them about this. Ultimately, however, in England and Wales, where we have testamentary freedom, people have the right to leave their estate to whoever they choose,” advises Nina.

If your parents choose to exclude a child, even if they have no brothers or sisters, that is their right. But there is some scope for some family members and dependants to challenge the will after death under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. This includes cases where someone has maintenance needs or they feel inadequate provision has been made for them.

“To avoid this happening, it is important that open, honest conversations should take place. This avoids potential disputes and unhappiness. And it is advisable to seek the guidance of a professional advisor,” says Nina. “If a child is financially dependent on their parents, they may be able to challenge the will but if they are self-sufficient, the ability to challenge is limited.”

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About Georgia Lewis
In a career that has spanned Australia, the Middle East and the UK, Georgia has written about all sorts of things, including sex, cars, food, oil and gas, insurance, fashion, travel, workplace safety, health, religious affairs, glass and glazing... When she's not writing words for fun and profit, she can usually be found with a glass of something French and red in her hand.

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