The liability of a personal representative (“PR”) is something which is often not discussed or considered in any great detail by those acting as executors or administrators of an estate.
Generally, people are thrown into the role of PR without prior experience and subsequently have no idea of the challenges involved. Concerningly, PRs often do not realise or appreciate how significant their role is and the liability connected with it.
This article (and Part 2) will briefly summarise the duties of a PR and highlight some of the repercussions of not fulfilling those duties.
There are 6 main duties of a PR. The first 3 are found under the headings below.
But first, a starting point for any PR is to realise and understand that they essentially own an estate (in a legal and “trustee” capacity), prior to it being distributed. Therefore, PRs can be responsible for hundreds of thousands of pounds of assets, if not more.
Duty 1: To Provide Information Regarding the Estate to HMRC for Inheritance Tax Purposes
Before the Grant of Probate, and in order to get one (where applicable), the PRs must account to HMRC in relation to Inheritance Tax. PRs are personally liable to HMRC for any Inheritance Tax due, and particularly where the PR has, by their own neglect or fault, not declared lifetime gifts, or for example ignored the existence of overseas assets. When one considers the figures involved – that Inheritance Tax is charged at 40% and can often run into hundreds of thousands of pounds – clearly this potential liability is considerable.
PRs must be aware that in certain circumstances there may be no need to obtain a Grant of probate but there IS a need to complete an inheritance tax account: for example, if most of the assets were gifted in the 7 years prior to death.
Duty 2: To Dispose of the Deceased’s Body
It is the PRs’ duty to dispose of the body, although of course this matter must be dealt with sensitively, respecting the wishes of the family and close friends as far as possible . In the case of an intestate estate, this duty falls on the administrators.
PRs should remember that funeral instructions are often in the will of the deceased, or a letter of wishes and should be followed wherever possible. It should also be noted that a funeral should be commensurate with the size of the estate.
Duty 3: To Collect in and Administer the Estate
This third duty of a PR extends to collecting the assets in and converting them to cash (where appropriate) whilst also paying debts which may be due. In relation to debts, PRs must be careful that they have properly considered and investigated any debts the deceased may have had. A notice placed in the Gazette and a local newspaper is usually the practical way of dealing with this, but advice should be taken on a case by case basis.
This third duty also extends to dealing with the assets appropriately. This can become far more complex and difficult when an estate comprises of a business, investments, trusts and substantial land and property. Complex estates like this will generally require a range of professionals to deal with them appropriately.
How we can help
If you are a PR, we can give you specialist advice on your duties and responsibilities. We have experience dealing with a vast range of estates. We also deal with contentious estate matters.
Or, perhaps you are a beneficiary and the PRs are not fulfilling their roles as they should? If so then we can also help you.
If you need assistance or are interested in learning more about this topic, please contact us on 0118 958 9711 or email in[email protected]
Get in Touch
If you would like further information, Nicholas Buckle offers an initial one hour fixed fee meeting at a cost of £95 (inc. VAT). During these meeting we can discuss your personal circumstances, options and possible next steps. Nick specialises on a broad range of contentious probate matters.
Due to the current circumstances, meetings can occur via telephone. We are hoping that meetings at our office in Reading can occur soon. Please call the office on 0118 9589711 or email [email protected] if you would like to book a meeting.