Obtaining the will
If the will is lodged in the bank. the executor has to sign for it or acknowledge its safe receipt in writing if it is sent by post. Where several executors are named in the will, the bank should ask for all their signatures before releasing the will to one of them on the understanding that in due course all the executors will sign an acknowledgement.
Sometimes the will may be held in a professional’s office safe. There should be no need for the professional to keep the will, and they should release it to the executors against their signatures if they all sign a receipt for it. If the professional is also one of the executors, they will expect to be involved in the administration. The professional can be asked to renounce, but will charge for this and is not obliged to agree. If the firm is to deal with the administration of the estate, make sure you are clear about the basis on which the firm will charge. If the professional who was appointed an executor has left the firm concerned, or has retired, he must be contacted. The professional may be prepared to renounce as executor, leaving you free to administer the estate without having to use a particular firm of solicitors or other professional advisers.
The reading of a will
A formal reading of the will to the family after the funeral is a ritual that now happens mostly (though not entirely) in the world of fiction. It is usual for the executor or administrator to inform the beneficiaries of the contents of the will as it affects that individual at an early stage although you should remember that anyone can see a copy once probate has been obtained. There is a small risk that the will might be found invalid, or a later will might be found, or that there is not enough in the estate to pay out all the legacies, so that no legacy can be confirmed until after probate is granted and the estate administered. That might be a reason to wait but, otherwise, the beneficiaries might become upset if the contents of the will are kept from them.
An executors first actions
Executors have to make sure that all the testator’s wishes are carried out as far as is possible, They owe a duty of the utmost faith not only to the deceased but also to the probate court, the creditors of the estate and the beneficiaries. They are under an obligation to realise the maximum benefit from the estate and can be challenged by the beneficiaries or the creditors if they fail to meet their obligations. They must therefore keep all matters of the administration of the estate entirely separate from their own personal affairs and be able to show, later on, by the preparation of estate accounts, that all the assets of the estate could be accounted for.
There are a few things that you should do early on in the proceedings:
• Once the death has been registered, obtain copies of the death certificates.
• Establish from the will that you have full authority to act as an executor, either singly or jointly.
If you are a joint executor, decide who is going to do what and get this down in writing. Even if you divide responsibilities, you will still both have to sign the probate as though you both had been dealing with a will.