Probate and Estate Administration specialist, Jenny Greenland, explains the ‘executors’ year’, the reasons for it, and its flexibility in complex cases.
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Administering and distributing an estate is not a fast process, even if the Will is very straightforward. Indeed, more recently, the timeframe was compounded by the coronavirus pandemic, which resulted in significant delays at the Probate Registry.
However, many beneficiaries don’t realise that executors and administrators have twelve months before they are obliged to distribute the estate to the beneficiaries. Time runs from the date of death. The principal reasons for this are to allow them sufficient time to:
- gather in all information regarding the assets and liabilities of the estate;
- settle the estate’s debts;
- safeguard the assets of the estate;
- pay any Inheritance Tax and any other tax liabilities due;
- search for beneficiaries or potential claimants on the estate.
During those twelve months, no interest accrues to the beneficiaries.
Executors carry personal liability. If pressured into releasing funds early and a mistake is made, they may have to make up any shortfall.
Even once the executor’s year has ended, it’s unlikely that the court will order the distribution of an estate if there are particular complexities. Typical examples are estates with foreign assets, private company shares, or the sale of a property is ongoing. In such cases, the executor must provide reasonable justification for the delay. It’s therefore crucial for executors to keep detailed and accurate records.
An exception to the executors’ year
There is an exception to the executors’ year. The Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 provides a mechanism for early financial support for the deceased’s dependents. A good example would be where the deceased was the sole provider for a child under 18. In such circumstances, the court can order the partial or complete release of funds or property before the end of the executors’ year. The time for making such an application is six months from the date probate or letters of administration are granted.