Your gift to the deceased

Managing the estate of a friend or relative who has died can be time-consuming and fraught, but it needn't be impossible. Nic Cicutti lists the tasks and, below, one executor describes her experiences
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The Independent Online
Executors are meant to manage a deceased person's estate, a job laid down by law. This involves:

q Finding out all the deceased person's assets, ranging from bank and building society accounts and pension schemes to refunds of services that have not been used, such as holidays.

Often the deceased keeps such details in one place or entrusts them to a solicitor. Otherwise assets can usually be located by talking and writing to the bank or building society manager and other agencies.

q Any outstanding debts must be found. These may include credit card bills, bank overdrafts, charge card bills, overpayments from benefits agencies, gambling or creditors' debts and funeral bills. These debts cannot usually be paid until probate is granted.

Executors must show they have taken reasonable steps to advertise for creditors.

q Unless the estate is small, once all assets are found and their value determined (by offsetting them against debts), the executor must obtain probate in order to carry out the will.

Probate is the term used to describe the legal document confirming the executor's authority. It is obtainable from the Probate Registry and involves filling in forms, being interviewed and swearing an oath. There are Probate Registries in most large towns and cities in England and Wales. The forms, available from Probate Registries, give details of the sliding scale of fees when applying for probate.

q The forms ask executors for details of the deceased, the will, and similar information. They also ask about any property in the estate, details of stocks and shares, all other assets and debts and the total value of the estate, all of which is linked to Inheritance Tax.

q To fill in some parts of the forms executors may need the help of an estate agent or auctioneer. But you can usually do it yourself.

q Probate forms are sent to the district probate office. Keep photocopies of all the forms.

After a few weeks an interview date is set where executors are asked to confirm that the information supplied is correct. They swear an oath, or affirm if non-religious.

q Inheritance Tax (IHT) is payable at 40 per cent on any part of an estate valued at more than pounds 200,000, after debts. If the estate is liable, payment must be made before probate is granted.

Ask the deceased's bank manager to agree an overdraft account in the executor's name, although problems are likely if IHT liabilities are substantial. If IHT is not payable, a letter of probate is usually sent to the executor's address within a few weeks.

q Winding up of an estate can begin. At this point, it is possible for the executor to use the previous overdraft account, or open a new one in order to settle debts owed by the deceased.

For most people executing a will is a time-consuming, occasionally frustrating but not impossible task.

There may be situations where the tax implications or other issues to be resolved are beyond the skills or the patience of an executor. If necessary, call in a specialist.