Can one executor act alone during probate?

When somebody passes away, the person with the responsibility of ensuring that the deceased person’s personal belongings and property are dealt with is known as the executor. The executor is appointed in the will and can be nominated to be one or more people.  It is the executor (or executors) who will apply for probate that gives them permission to deal with the deceased’s estate. The maximum number of people who can be named in the Grant of Probate (known as proving the Will) as an executor of a will is four. If only one person has been nominated, they are known as the ‘sole executor’.

Whilst it is perfectly acceptable to name just one person as the sole executor (often this person can be the partner or spouse of the deceased person), it can be a large undertaking of work, and this is why often it is recommended that more than one person is named. There can also be certain aspects to dealing with the person’s estate that cannot be dealt with by just one person. Our probate solicitors at Waldrons can help with this.

Joint Executors

If two or more people have been named as an executor, they are known as ‘joint executors’. The law states that if joint executors have been nominated, one of them will not be able to act alone – unless permission has been given by the other executor. Joint executors are named together and, therefore, must also act together. If someone has been named as a joint executor but does not wish to act as the executor or would like to leave the work to the other(s), they must give their agreement to this.  That person would have the following options:

1. They can step aside – through a Notice of Power Reserved. With this notice, they are merely stepping aside and can come back into the appointment at a later date if they wish to. This is only an option if there is more than one executor that has been nominated. If you have been named as a sole executor and do not want to carry out these duties, you must go through a different process. Application is made to the court who will issue a Grant of Probate detailing the existing executor(s).

2. They can renounce their powers – by doing this, the executorship will be cancelled and the person that has done this cannot go back. In this case, a Deed of Renunciation must be signed and should be obtained through a solicitor.

It is vital that anyone who wishes to free themselves of their executorship discusses this first and carries it out through a solicitor.

When a sole executor cannot act alone

There are some occasions when a solo executor is not able to act alone, however, when they are administrating the estate.

These can include:

If there is a trust in the will

If there is a trust in the will, two or more people are needed to administer the trust.  Executors are then known as Trustees.  If only one executor has been nominated, you should seek legal advice if you are required to deal with a trust in the will.

A trust is a legal document within the will that allows your assets to be looked after for the beneficiaries of the trust.

If the executor has the ability to act alone

This comes down to the abilities of the nominated executor. There could be many reasons why the executor does not have the capacity to act as the sole executor. It involves a lot of work and sometimes they are not able to do this all themselves. Another common occasion where a nominated sole executor would be unable to act alone would be if they have already passed away.

To reduce stress and limit family issues

The time after the passing away of a loved one can be very stressful and a difficult time for all of the family. This can sometimes lead to resentment, suspicion, or jealousy within the family and high levels of stress for everyone. By appointing more than one executor, you can take some of the pressure off those who are doing this work, as well as reduce the possibility of other family stresses and tensions.

These are some of the reasons why it is recommended that two or more people are nominated as executors to a will. If this is not done and there are issues with trying to find a replacement, this can lead to many complications with the resolution of the will.

Contact Waldrons Solicitors

Here at Waldrons, we have a team of experienced solicitors who can help you Contact us today to discuss your circumstances.

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Last reviewed on 11/07/23 by Dawn Cash who is Head of Private Client and an Associate Director