When someone makes a will, they normally ask at least one and sometimes two people to be the executors of the will. The executors will normally be either family members or close family friends, and they usually have a fairly good knowledge of the person, their home and their lifestyle. However, the role of an executor can be quite a complex one and can involve a significant amount of work, often over quite a long period of time.

Role of an executor

The overall duty of an executor is to make sure that the provisions of the will are carried out, or executed as the name implies, in accordance with the wishes of the person who made the will.

Given that the will is quite a complex legal document, the executor will inevitably get involved in areas of law, finance and tax which they will probably need to have some understanding of. The duties of an executor can include funeral arrangements as well, depending upon what is specified in the will itself.

Many executors also employ the services of a law firm to help them, as well at accountants if necessary. These professional services will charge a fee, which can be deducted from any money left in the will.

The executor normally works in an unpaid capacity, but they may well be able to claim some expenses in accordance with standard practice.

Generally speaking, the duties will be to initially obtain a copy of the will and make contact with all interested parties to let them know what is going on.

They will also need to determine all the potential assets and liabilities that maybe involved in the distribution of the will's provisions and ultimately distribute the estate after probate has been granted.

These duties can of course become incredibly complicated if the will itself is disputed or there are complications in locating beneficiaries.

There are certain circumstances where an executor could be held personally liable if the terms of the will are not completely complied with, and as such they need to take whatever appropriate professional advice advice the situation warrants.

Estate claims

The term 'estate' can sometimes be a bit worrying for executors as it implies something quite grand. It is really an historical term that was once used in relation to vast estates of land and property. In today's world, it means very clearly all the assets and liabilities that are deemed to be in the name of the individual who has deceased.

Assets include all personal effects, securities, real estate, cash, and business interests — in effect anything that the person owned or that was in their name.

An estate claim is a claim made against the estate by someone who believes they are owed money or property that was in the name of the deceased. This can include standard things such as mortgages, credit cards and loans.

This can become quite a complex area, and it is certainly one where legal advice is likely to be needed.


The executor of the will has the primary responsibility for obtaining probate. Probate is the legal process that recognises the validity of the will and the legitimacy of the executor in administrating the terms of the will and distributing the estate.

In order to obtain probate, an application will need to be made to a court, providing certain documents, which normally include the original will, the original death certificate and a complete statement of all assets and liabilities of the estate.