Wills, Estates & Succession Planning 11 February 2021

I am an Executor of a Will. What is my role?

As an Executor, you are entrusted with carrying out someone’s final wishes after they pass away.  This involves “administering their estate” which is the process of collecting in their assets, paying their debts and liabilities and distributing the balance of their estate in accordance with their Will.

When do I start?

Your role as Executor commences as soon as the deceased passes away. You will ordinarily be responsible for making funeral arrangements, obtaining the Death Certificate, locating the deceased’s Will, applying for a Grant of Probate of that Will (or Letters of Administration if no Will is located), calling in their assets and distributing their estate in accordance with their Will.  Your role continues until the estate is fully administered and all assets have been distributed to the beneficiaries named in their Will.

What are my responsibilities?

As Executor, you need a complete overview of the deceased’s assets and liabilities, including confirmation of any debtors or creditors of the deceased.  Given you become responsible for the deceased’s assets once they pass away, it is crucial these are identified, valued, secured and insured.  This way, they are protected until they are sold or distributed in accordance with the terms of the Will.

Depending on the assets held by the deceased, you may be required to apply for a Grant of Probate.  Grants of Probate are explored further below, however if a Grant of Probate is required, once issued, it authorises you to redeem the deceased’s assets.

Other matters you may need to turn your mind to as Executor are:

  • Did the deceased own a business? If so, you must determine if the business was operated as a Sole Trader, Partnership or Company and whether the business will continue to operate or be wound up. You may also need to sell assets of the business, organise tax issues and invest funds.
  • Did the deceased have any pets? If so, you must arrange for them to be cared for and/or be rehomed.
  • Does the deceased have any outstanding bills or services that need to be cancelled? If so, you will need to make arrangements for these bills to be paid from estate funds and the accounts closed to avoid further charges.
  • Did the deceased continue to pay tax? If required, you may also need to address the taxation issues which arise both for the deceased prior to their death, but also for the deceased’s estate.  This may require both a “date of death tax return” and an “estate tax return”.  An Accountant is often engaged to ensure this task is appropriately completed.
  • Did the deceased have a share portfolio or investment? If so, you may need to make decisions about the liquidation or management of those portfolios or investments.
  • Did the deceased own a vehicle? If yes, you may need to attend to the sale or transfer of the deceased’s motor vehicle, boat, trailer, caravan or motorbike (particularly if these items are gifted in the deceased’s Will).  When dealing with these assets, you also need to cancel insurances once the vehicle is transferred out of the estate.
  • Did the deceased have superannuation or life insurance? You may need to look into this and make a claim for their superannuation, seeking it be paid to the deceased’s estate.
  • How would the beneficiaries like to receive their inheritance? You may also need to obtain instructions from beneficiaries about how they wish to receive assets of the estate (for example, would they prefer to have shares transferred to them, or just receive the sale proceeds?).

What is a Grant of Probate?

A Grant of Probate is an order from the Supreme Court of Victoria confirming the deceased’s Will is proven to be valid and is their last known Will. The Grant of Probate also confirms your appointment as Executor and authorises you to act as a Legal Personal Representative of the deceased’s estate.

A Grant of Probate is required for most estates, particularly where the deceased owned property, was residing in aged care or held bank accounts or investments valued over $30,000.00. The application process takes approximately four to six weeks, and is generally undertaken with the assistance of a lawyer experienced in these applications and estate administration

Are there costs associated with acting as Executor?

There are ordinarily no costs to you personally for acting as an Executor.

The cost of administering an estate will vary significantly depending on the complexity of the estate, including the number and type of assets, number of beneficiaries and whether any person seeks to contest the Will.  These costs are ordinarily paid from estate funds (not by you as an Executor).

This sounds complicated – where can I get help?

There is no doubt acting as an Executor can be challenging, even with a relatively simple estate. However, your job as an Executor will be made more straightforward and less onerous if you have an experienced legal team guiding you through the process.

Coulter Legal provides expert, tailored and timely assistance to Executors tasked with administering an estate.  Our team of lawyers and Probate clerks will assist you through this process to ensure your loved one’s Will is administered properly and efficiently, and that you meet your duties and obligations as an Executor.

In partnership with Legal Tech company, Settify, Coulter Legal are proud to have launched an online Probate tool to simplify the Estate Administration process.

Stefan Manche.
Stefan Manche Principal Lawyer Head of Wills, Estates & Succession Planning View profile
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