If you’re not used to legal terminology, a will can be confusing 😕. Thankfully these roles can be simple to explain. So we'll break them down together and get you confident with each of them.
The roles of an executor, guardian, trustee, and beneficiary
What is an executor?
The executor will be the person who deals with your estate after you pass away, cause someone’s gotta. This involves registering the death, settling all of the debts, distributing the assets of the estate, and completing any other administration associated with the death.
You can name an executor in your will and this gives them the power to control your estate. You can name more than one executor (up to four) to share the responsibility but often it is a spouse or eldest child. You may also want to make sure that at least one person you choose is younger, and unlikely to die before you.
Roles of an executor
- Registering the death with the local registry office
- Arranging the funeral, depending on your wishes
- Applying for a Grant of Probate for the legal power to deal with the estate
- Informing organizations about the death such as utility companies, the council, and their bank
- Valuing the estate, including any property, cash and possessions
- Creating a list of all money owed such as mortgages, loans and household bills and settling any debts
- Calculating the Inheritance Tax due, completing the required forms and paying it
- Completing estate accounts if there is significant assets, liabilities, income and expenditure
Distribution of the estate to all the beneficiaries in accordance with the will
While all of these roles are the responsibility of the executor, it is common that the load will be shared among family members. It’s important to choose an executor who will be able to handle the task as it can be a lot of hard work at a difficult time. To learn more about being an executor, read How To Be The Executor Of Someone's Will.
What is a guardian?
A guardian will be responsible for the care of the children under the age of 18, and should be named in the will. Stating this in your will is vital in avoiding potentially going to court.
The role of a guardian will essentially become the same as that of a parent. They will be financially responsible for the children along with all the major decisions such as schooling, social development, and health issues.
This role should be previously discussed and agreed upon with the potential guardian. Often there will also be finances in the will to support the guardian in looking after their children but this may be controlled by a trustee. To learn more about guardians, check out our article Why and How to Choose a Guardian in Your Will.
What is a trustee?
The trustee and the executor will often be the same person but the two roles are very clearly different and defined. A trustee is responsible for the long-term management of the estate if any part of it has been held in trust. Essentially, a trust is money (or other assets) that have been held back for a particular reason.
A common reason can be money left for children under 18. The trustee will have to follow the rules of the trust and manage the assets accordingly. For example: A guardian gets X amount £/month for the care of the children.
A trustee can be anyone from a family member to a professional, such as a solicitor. For a few reasons, it’s usually best to keep the trustee and guardians as separate people to share the responsibility. The trustees and guardians can then work together for the benefit of the child or children.
What is a beneficiary?
A beneficiary is anyone that has been named to receive something from a will. This could be any asset such as possessions (cars, jewellery), money or property. It will be the role of the executor to share when you will receive this benefit.
There is usually no active role to play for a beneficiary, but there may be specific wishes or instructions on how assets should be managed and it’s the beneficiary’s responsibility to follow them.
Knowing your role
Hopefully now you have a pretty good idea of what these roles mean and how they apply to you or a loved one. While all being clearly defined and separate roles, the same person could technically be the executor, guardian, trustee,nand beneficiary of a will. That’s why it’s super important to be as clear as possible in your will. Don’t have a will? I can’t tell you how important it is to start one today ✍️.