15th FEBRUARY 2021
When someone writes a will, they are encouraged to name an executor to take on the responsibility of handling their estate after they die. This involves applying for a grant of probate and subsequently distributing the deceased’s assets to the beneficiaries and selling or transferring any property in the estate.
When an executor dies before they can fulfil this role, the responsibility will be handed on to someone else. The procedure for taking over the probate process after the executor has died will vary depending on whether they died before or after acquiring a grant of probate.
If the executor dies before obtaining a grant of probate
If the executor dies before the person who wrote the will, or before they have had a chance to acquire a grant of probate, what happens next will depend on what is written in the will.
It is common for people to name more than one executor in their will. If one of the executors dies or is unable or unwilling to take on the responsibility of applying for probate, the role is passed on to the next executor.
If no other executors were named or if all named executors have died, then the role is passed on to the main beneficiaries of the will. Up to four executors can act during probate, so if the estate is split between several beneficiaries, the responsibility can also be shared. It is easier to figure out who needs to apply for probate when there is a will, because the beneficiaries are already written out and there is no need to analyse intestacy rules to determine who is owed the most.
If the executor dies after obtaining a grant of probate
Similarly, any other named executors will be responsible for taking on this role if one of several executors has died after obtaining a grant of probate. It should be noted that the grant of probate is not automatically passed on to the next executor. The probate registry will revoke the grant obtained by the deceased executor, and the new executor will have to begin the probate application process from the beginning in their own name.
If there are no other named executors, the next step is to find out whether the deceased executor left a will. If they did not leave a will, then the responsibility is passed on to the main beneficiaries, as explained above. These beneficiaries now have the right to apply for their own grant of representation in order to administer the estate.
If the executor did leave a will and they named an executor, the role is passed on to this executor. This is known as the ‘chain of responsibility’ and it means that the new executor will have the responsibility of dealing with two estates at the same time. Again, the grant of probate will be revoked, and the new executor will have to submit an application in their own name. Handling one estate as the executor can be difficult and time-consuming, so handling two might seem overwhelming. If this is the situation that you have found yourself in, we would heavily recommend that you hire a professional probate solicitor or service such as Kwil to help you with at least one of the estates. You can pay for this service using funds from the estate as you are never expected to pay out of pocket for issues relating to your role as executor.