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How do I administer an estate as an Executor during coronavirus?

View profile for Sue Nicholson
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Adjusting to the challenges caused by coronavirus has been difficult for all of us. However, for those dealing with the death of a loved one, the onerous obligations placed on Executors may seem overwhelming.  In recent years there has been an increase in the number of claims brought against Executors by beneficiaries. Coupled with increased financial hardship as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, it is vital that Executors understand their duties and obligations to avoid claims.

Sue Nicholson, Associate Solicitor in our Private Client team, here explains more about the duties of an Executor in this situation, how to ensure you carry out your obligations to the best of your ability while lockdown restrictions and social distancing measures are in effect, and explains how we can support you during these distressing times.

What are my duties as an Executor?

If you have been appointed as an Executor in someone’s Will, it means that they have chosen you to administer their estate after they have passed away.  “This is a trusted position and the responsibilities should not be taken lightly,” begins Sue.  “There are a number of practical, relatively straight forward steps, such as registering their death and obtaining death certificates, but also some more complicated areas such as valuing the estate, assets and property, calculating the taxes that must be paid, as well as keeping detailed records throughout to support your decisions to the beneficiaries.”

It is these more complicated areas that have been made more so by the social distancing and lockdown restrictions that have existed in recent months, however there will be no leniencies granted simply because of the coronavirus pandemic if you do not keep on top of your duties.  With this in mind, you must continue to:

  • Act promptly and with reasonable care - Social distancing restrictions and other priorities brought about by the pandemic make it more challenging for Executors to carry out their duties in a timely fashion. However, it is vital that you endeavour to do so.  As an Executor, you are legally obliged to meet any deadlines, such as for payment of taxes including Inheritance Tax, Capital Gains Tax or Income Tax.  You must also keep in mind that many institutions are experiencing significant delays as a result of the pandemic, including HMRC and the Courts, so you must plan to take these into consideration and allow yourself adequate time to meet these deadlines.
  • Take action to protect and maximise the value of the estate - One of the main duties of an Executor is to protect the estate and maintain its worth for the beneficiaries. There are several things you may wish to do to make sure you comply with this duty, even while coronavirus restrictions are in place. You should ensure that any property forming part of the estate is secure, including removing valuables from any unoccupied buildings and notifying insurers that the property is now empty.
  • Stay in regular contact with beneficiaries of the estate - In this confusing and stressful era, beneficiaries may be feeling anxious about the estate.  The fear of financial difficulty, combined with concerns about the economy, may also mean that beneficiaries are worried about the value of any property or investments of the estate.  By staying in regular contact with beneficiaries you will alleviate these fears and keep them informed about the performance of the estate assets.  You may wish to seek professional advice from an experienced financial advisor, to ensure that you are minimising any losses.
  • Keep accounts up to date - It is essential that you keep accounts and records up to date.  This may be more challenging as a result of COVID-19, however, this does not protect you from criticism from beneficiaries if you fail to do so. You must also be responsive when beneficiaries request accounts or information.

How should I deal with disputes from beneficiaries?

Sadly, even when you endeavour to carry out your duties as Executor to the best of your ability, you may face criticism from beneficiaries.  Keeping the detailed records should help minimise the risk of disputes along the way, as you can justify your actions and demonstrate that you have been following the wishes of the deceased.  Other complications may arise however from a disgruntled beneficiary, who may see your appointment as Executor as the issue itself, they may challenge the validity of the Will or you may disagree with a fellow Executor about the interpretation of the Will.  In any of these situations, the best action is to try and resolve these differences between yourselves initially and try and come to the root of the issue. 

“Emotions are always high at times like these, and so taking a step back and trying to remove that emotion can assist,” concludes Sue.  “That Is, understandably, not always possible and so seeking legal advice may be the next step for you and the beneficiaries involved.  We unfortunately do see disputes arise and can help you in either reaching a resolution or when making or defending a claim in Court.  Even when disputes don’t arise, facing the death of a loved one will be a devastating task in itself, without the added pressure of administering their estate.  We are also on hand to support you with the duties and advise as to the best course of action.  We are currently working remotely and can discuss your needs with you over the phone, via email or video conferencing at a time convenient to you.”

To discuss your situation with Sue or a member of the Private Client team you can call today on 01329 222075 or email suenicholson@warnergoodman.co.uk.

ENDS

This is for information purposes only and is no substitute for, and should not be interpreted as, legal advice.  All content was correct at the time of publishing and we cannot be held responsible for any changes that may invalidate this article.