How to deal with an estate as an executor during the coronavirus pandemic

10 August 2020

By Phil Appleby, Associate Solicitor, Wills, Trusts & Estates team

Adjusting to the challenges caused by coronavirus has been difficult for all of us. However, for those dealing with the death of a loved one, the onerous obligations placed on executors may seem overwhelming.

WIn recent years, there has been an increase in the number of claims brought against executors by beneficiaries. Coupled with increased financial hardship as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, it is vital that executors understand their duties and obligations to avoid claims. In this article we set out what is required of executors and how to ensure you carry out your obligations to the best of your ability while lockdown restrictions and social distancing measures are in effect.

You must act promptly and with reasonable care. 
Social distancing restrictions and other priorities brought about by the pandemic make it more challenging for executors to carry out their duties in a timely fashion. However, it is vital that you endeavour to do so. As an executor, you are legally obliged to meet any deadlines, such as for payment of taxes. While the Government has relaxed some of the usual rules, they have made few concessions when it comes to Inheritance Tax. You must also keep in mind that many institutions are experiencing significant delays as a result of the pandemic, including HMRC and the Courts. You should ensure you allow adequate time to meet these deadlines.

You must take action to protect and maximise the value of the estate.
One of the main duties of an executor is to protect the estate and (so far as they reasonably can) maximise its worth for the beneficiaries. There are several things you may wish to do to make sure you comply with this duty, even while coronavirus restrictions are in place. You should ensure that any property forming part of the estate is secure, including removing valuables from any unoccupied buildings and notifying insurers that the property is now empty. Depending on the circumstances, you may need to take extra steps, such as changing the locks, declaring a vehicle SORN or arranging specialist unoccupied property insurance.

You must stay in regular contact with beneficiaries of the estate.
In this confusing and stressful era, beneficiaries may be feeling anxious about the estate. The fear of financial difficulty, combined with concerns about the economy, may also mean that beneficiaries are worried about the value of any property or investments of the estate. By staying in regular contact with beneficiaries you will alleviate these fears and keep them informed about the performance of the estate assets.

You may wish to seek professional advice from an experienced financial advisor, to ensure that you are minimising any losses. 

You must keep accounts up to date.
It is essential that you keep accounts and records up to date. This may be more challenging as a result of COVID-19, however, this does not protect you from criticism from beneficiaries if you fail to do so. You must also be responsive when beneficiaries request accounts or information.

How should I deal with difficulty from beneficiaries? 
Sadly, even when you endeavour to carry out your duties as executor to the best of your ability, you may face criticism from beneficiaries. The best way to deal with any difficulty is direct action. Take steps as soon as possible to mitigate the situation or contact an experienced solicitor for advice. At Cullimore Dutton we have extensive experience of acting for both executors and beneficiaries, so can help you deal with any difficulties that arise.

For more information about dealing with an estate as an executor, please contact a member of the Wills, Trusts & Estates team at Cullimore Dutton Solicitors on 01244 356 789 or email to arrange a free half hour consultation.

Please note: This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.