Choosing an executor

The person who sorts out your possessions when you die and carries out the instructions in your will is called your executor.

You can choose whoever you like to do this job (and it can be more than one person) - but it’s an important choice to get right.

What does an executor do?

Your executor takes on the job of carrying out the instructions you leave in your will when you die. It can be a complicated job even if your instructions and your property are quite simple - it’s not unusual for the process to take several months.

The job of an executor is sometimes difficult. For example, they might have to:

  • Decide when to sell your property so that the people who inherit the proceeds get the most money
  • Make sure the right amount of Inheritance Tax, Capital Gains Tax or Income Tax gets paid

Who can be an executor of a will?

Anyone aged 18 or above can be an executor of your will. There’s no rule against people named in your will as beneficiaries being your executors. In fact this is very common. 

Many people choose their spouse or civil partner or their children to be an executor. But that doesn’t mean they have to write them out of the will.

Up to four executors can act at a time, but they all have to act jointly so it might not be practical to appoint that many people.

It’s a good idea, though, to choose two executors in case one of them dies before you do. For example, you might choose one family member and one professional, like a solicitor or accountant.

Professional executors tend to charge, but it can be helpful to have someone involved with specialist knowledge. You can appoint substitute executors to cover the situation if your first choice dies before you.

What makes a good executor?

Above all you must choose somebody you trust. It’s going to be up to them to follow the instructions in your will and to find fair solutions to any disagreements.

be aware

You can leave something in your will to your executor, but you can't leave anything to one of your will's official witnesses.

If your executor is good at paperwork and managing legal issues it will be helpful. And if you choose more than one executor, they may decide to divide up the work. For example, if you appoint one of your children and a solicitor as your executors, they may decide that your child might be the best person to deal sensitively with other family members, while the solicitor handles the tax and legal work.

Family members as executors

If there’s someone in your family who you think will handle the job well, it can be a good idea to have them as an executor. For example, it’s very common to name one of your children, a niece or nephew or an adult grandchild.

Make sure you ask if they’re happy to do the job before you write your will, though – if they say no, you’ll have to get your will changed.

Think carefully before choosing your husband, wife or partner as your only executor. They’ll be dealing with your death, and by naming somebody else to be an executor with your husband, wife or partner, you can at least take the burden of the paperwork off their shoulders.

sorting out an estate

The process you need to follow depends on if there is a will or not - see Sorting out someone's estate.

Solicitors, banks and accountants as executors

Choosing a solicitor as one of your executors makes a lot of sense, especially if sorting out your things is likely to be complicated – they’re experienced at the job and know their way around legal, tax and property issues.

If the financial side of your will is especially complicated, it could be a good idea to choose a bank or accountant as one of your executors.

Of course, these professional specialists will charge you for their work. This happens in one of two ways:

  • By sending a bill for their time when your things have all been sorted out
  • By taking a share of the total value of your estate – this will be written into your will

Make sure you understand how your solicitor, bank or accountant will charge for being an executor and how much each option will cost before you commit yourself.

If you don’t have anyone who can be an executor

As a last resort, there’s a government official called the Public Trustee who will be your executor if there’s really nobody else who can do it.

The most common situation where the Public Trustee will step in is if your will leaves everything to one person and that person can’t act as executor himself or herself – for example, a child or an adult whose disability means they are incapable of managing financial affairs. 

When you’ve chosen your executor

Make sure you confirm your executor’s full name and address in your will – otherwise they may not be able to do their job, if they cannot be found.

Last reviewed: 12/06/2017

This content has been provided by the Money Advice Service