What happens in estate administration if an executor has died?

After someone’s death, the executor named in their Will is responsible for winding up their estate. If the executor dies, either before or during the estate administration, there is a process which must be gone through to find and appoint another executor.

The executor of an estate has the onerous task of collecting in estate assets, valuing and selling them, paying off any debts and Inheritance Tax, preparing estate accounts and distributing the estate to the named beneficiaries.

When choosing your executor, you should make sure that you select someone who is capable and who is willing to take on the role, which is usually time-consuming and can be complex. You should also consider appointing someone younger than you so that they are likely to be around to take the job on when the time comes. It is also advisable to appoint two executors, so that, in the event that one of them dies, the other one can administer the estate.

When the only executor dies before you

Ideally, in this situation you should make a new Will, appointing different executors. However, if this hasn’t been possible, then when the time comes, if any executor named in the Will has predeceased you, someone else will need to step in and apply to the Probate Registry for a Grant of Probate, giving them the authority to wind up your estate.

The Non-Contentious Probate Rules 1987 set out in order who is entitled to apply for probate. After the executor themselves, anyone who has been appointed to hold assets in trust for a residuary beneficiary is next, followed by a residuary beneficiary. The list goes on beyond this, should this category of person not be available, but usually it is the case that the main beneficiary or beneficiaries of the estate will take on the role. A maximum of four people can act as beneficiaries.

When an executor dies during estate administration

In the event that an executor dies after being issued with a Grant of Representation authorising them to wind up the estate, then the administration can be completed by any other jointly acting executor.

If there was only one executor and they have died, or if other named executors do not wish to act, then the executor named in the deceased executor’s Will is responsible for completing the administration of the estate.

This is called the chain of representation and effectively means that the executor will have to deal with the administration of two estates; the one in which they are named as executor and the original estate.

If the executor dies without making a Will, then the Non-Contentious Probate Rules apply as outlined before.

Appointing executors

To avoid the complicated situation where your estate is left without an executor, it is advisable to appoint two executors in your Will and to review these appointments regularly.

In the event that either of your executors becomes unwell, or the task of administering an estate is likely to be too complex or time-consuming for them to undertake, you should consider appointing a new executor in their place.

If you would like to discuss your options, we would be happy to hear from you.

For your own personal estate planning needs, you’re welcome to book a call with an expert via our scheduling window below:



Locating missing beneficiaries

When someone dies, the person administering the estate needs to let the beneficiaries know what they are entitled to. 

All too often, beneficiaries are challenging to track down. And that can have a significant impact on the probate process.

Finding an identified beneficiary 

If you know the name of a beneficiary (for example, if they are mentioned in the Will), then the process of locating them isn’t usually too difficult. 

Things you can do to find them include:

  • Placing a note in the newspaper
  • Asking family members and friends to help 
  • Using a Tracing Agency.
  • Looking for online profiles via social media like Facebook or LinkedIn

As an executor, you must make reasonable efforts to try and find them, so it is worth speaking to your solicitor if you are struggling to do so.

Finding an unknown beneficiary

£137m of unclaimed monies (monies laid dormant for 15 years plus) were declared dormant by the five high street banks in 2019.

In many cases, these estates remain unclaimed because the deceased did not leave a Will, and it is unclear if there are any living relatives entitled to this inheritance. 

Under the UK’s inheritance laws (Rules of Intestacy), when someone dies without a Will, people who are blood relatives of the deceased could be entitled to a share of the estate. Even distant relations could be in for a windfall. However, if no heirs are found the estate Will be passed on to the Government (the Crown). 

It can be difficult to establish who the beneficiaries are, but your probate solicitor Will be able to help. Often this involves you pulling together a family tree and using a Tracing Agent to do the rest. 

It’s not enough to find any living relative, they have to be the right person to benefit under the Intestacy rules.

Where a beneficiary can’t be found, you may have to administer the estate regardless. But, you must ensure you are protected in case someone comes forward at a later date and makes a successful claim on the estate. 

To protect yourself from liability you could:

  • Obtain insurance specific to this situation
  • Apply for a Court Order to determine how the Estate should be distributed
  • Make a payment to the Court under S.63 Trustee Act 1925 (leaving a nominal sum in an estate).

Ultimately, you are financially liable for searching for missing beneficiaries, so specialist legal advice is strongly recommended.

At ADL Estate Planning we work closely with our colleagues from several major practices to support them in ensuring their clients are provided with bespoke estate planning solutions. Should you be a professional or a potential client don’t hesitate to reach out via our scheduling window below: