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What happens if you do not want to take up the role of executor?

View profile for Hannah McGavin
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It is sometimes the case that the person named in a Will as the deceased’s executor is unable or unwilling to take on the role.

The task of executor can be complex and time-consuming. It involves identifying and valuing all of the deceased’s estate, calculating and paying Inheritance Tax, obtaining a Grant of Probate, collecting in and selling assets, to include clearing and selling any property the deceased may have owned, discharging debts and liabilities, preparing detailed estate accounts and distributing the estate to the beneficiaries named in the Will.

An executor can be held personally liable for any mistakes they make, even if they were genuine errors. The role of executor is a lifelong role and does not end when the estate administration has come to an end, it may be that years later an asset or issue arises that the executor then must deal with.

It is sometimes the case that, even if someone agreed to take on the responsibility of being an executor, when the time comes, it may be too much for them. They could be elderly or in ill-health or simply not have the time to devote to the administrative process.

Renunciation as executor

It is open to someone who has been named as an executor to renounce the position. If you think you may want to renounce, it is vital that you do not take any role at all in the estate administration. Once you have taken even a single action, you may be viewed as having intermeddled in the estate and it may not be possible to renounce.

A renunciation needs to be in writing and signed in the presence of witnesses. This will then be lodged with the Probate Registry. If you later change your mind and wish to take up the role of executor, you would need the consent of a district judge or probate registrar as it is not possible to simply step back into the administration.

Who will be the executor if you renounce the position?

Ideally, the deceased will have named more than one executor in their Will or named an alternate who can step in if you do not wish to take on the role. If no-one else has been appointed, it will be up to either you or the beneficiaries to decide who should apply for a Grant of Probate and deal with the winding up of the estate.

Professional help

A common alternative is to ask an experienced probate lawyer to deal with the administration on your behalf. You would still be appointed as executor, but they would take on most of the work involved on your behalf.

Reserving your right to apply for a Grant of Probate

If there are other executors named in the Will you can have your power reserved. This is a way of stepping back from the estate administration but with the option to be involved later on, should you wish to.

Asking a professional executor to renounce

If the deceased has appointed a professional executor, it may be the case that the family do not want them to take on the role. In this case, they can ask the individual to renounce and it is generally the case that they will do so, even though they are under no obligation.

If you have been appointed as an executor and you are not sure whether you are prepared to take on the role, we would be happy to discuss your options with you.

If you would like to speak to one of our expert Wills and probate lawyers, contact our Farnham office on 01252 733770 or online.

This information is for guidance only and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking full legal advice on specific facts and circumstances.