If you have been appointed as an executor of a Will, you may feel duty-bound to take up that role. Perhaps a friend or family member has asked you to deal with their affairs once they have passed, entrusted you to sort matters out and you want to honour their wishes. You may have been appointed to help if there is no immediate family to inherit, or where there may be a dispute between family members and you can act impartially. If you have not been left anything under the Will, you may wonder whether you can charge the estate for the work you undertake or for expenses you incur.
What Entitlements does the Executor of a Will have?
An executor is entitled to be reimbursed for reasonable out-of-pocket expenses, such as postage for sending letters to notify institutions of the death or some travel expenses for sorting out a property. However, if the Will does not include a clause which confirms that an executor can charge, they are not usually able to be remunerated for their work. There are exceptions to this rule, where the beneficiaries agree that you can charge, or if the Court authorises remuneration.
The recent case of Gavriel & Anor v Davis (2019) highlighted the requirement that unless there was a clear agreement in writing from all the beneficiaries that the executor could be paid for reasonable or fixed charges, they could not be paid for their work. In that case, the executor wanted to claim £27,300 for their work and stated that she had agreed with the beneficiaries that she would be able to charge at an hourly rate of £250. The beneficiaries stated that they had agreed in principle that as a matter of good faith, some renumeration should be made, but there was no agreement reached to pay a particular sum to them. The executor for the Will had an accountancy background although she was not providing a professional service. She had not provided terms of business or a written estimate of the intended fees to be charged as would be expected of a professional executor. Inheritance tax was payable in this estate and she had dealt with the taxation position and had been able to negotiate successfully with HMRC which had saved the estate around £60,000 of tax. The Court concluded, however, that no agreement had been reached between the executor and the beneficiaries about charging the estate. There was only a proposal that the beneficiaries were willing to pay something but there was no obligation to do so.
If you are therefore considering acting as an executor of a Will and undertaking the work yourself on behalf of the estate, you would need to obtain written confirmation from the beneficiaries that you could charge for your work unless the Will already made provision for this. Without this, you would have to undertake the role out of personal generosity.