The main difference between a personal and professional executor is the cost. A professional executor is someone you employ to administer your estate while a personal executor, like a spouse or other family member, will not be paid for their services unless it is stipulated in the will. The reason someone chooses to use a personal executor is because they usually have some knowledge of the individual’s financial circumstances, and they can be trusted not to abuse their responsibilities when the time comes.
While using a professional executor attracts additional costs, some may consider the benefits outweigh this minor disadvantage. Firstly, since a professional executor does not have a vested interest in the Will they are able to act impartially when dealing with distributing assets. Using a family member could result in conflict if there are disputes over the way an inheritance has been carved up.
The second advantage to using a professional is their knowledge of the administrative and legal process. Administering an estate involves dealing with multiple government agencies, financial institutions, and service providers which can be confusing and time consuming for someone without experience. Estate planning lawyers and other professional executor services understand what the process involves and what paperwork is required to administer an estate.
Thirdly, a professional understands the responsibility that the role involves, and the potential consequences of neglecting their duties. If an executor has to be removed by the Supreme Court it can be a time consuming process and cause further delays for the administration of an estate. Someone who is being paid for their services is unlikely to cause unnecessary delays and further stress on a grieving family.
Most people may shy away from choosing a professional executor because of the fees they charge for their services. But the cost involved in using a professional may not be worth the stress of leaving such a big responsibility with someone ill equipped to handle it. In fact, family members or close friends may even opt to engage a solicitor to apply for probate and deal with more complicated elements of the estate anyway.
When deciding who you want to administer your estate there are a number of important considerations:
How many executors do you want?
Do you want to nominate a personal AND a professional?
Do you want to use a lawyer, accountant, public trustee or legal service like Safewill?
Do you want to engage a professional solely for probate?
While most people assume using a professional can be cost-prohibitive, the rise of online-based legal platforms like Safewill has made it more accessible than ever. Our lawyers can provide clear instructions for what you need to do as executor, and take the burden of the probate application out of your hands. Safewill does not take a cut of the estate in the same way most lawyers and public trustees do, but only charges a one-off fee for the service. Read more about our probate services here.
Can you have more than one executor?
Yes. Most people choose to appoint more than one executor in case one is unable to act or if they die or become incapacitated before they can carry out their duties. You can choose to appoint a personal and a professional executor to act jointly on significant matters, while allowing them to divide responsibilities on less important issues. A professional executor could be given the responsibility for handling administrative and legal matters while the personal executor could manage any pets, children or personal property of the deceased during probate.
Can an executor change a Will?
No. An executor is prohibited from changing the Will in any form. This includes signing the Will, removing beneficiaries, or assigning themselves as a beneficiary. If they abuse their duties or neglect to carry out their responsibilities a beneficiary can contact the Supreme Court to have the executor revoked or replaced.
Can an executor refuse to pay a beneficiary?
No. An executor must carry out all instructions set out in the Will. The only reason an executor can legally withhold someone’s inheritance is if the estate is insolvent. This means the debts and other liabilities outweigh the total assets so the funds will not be distributed to the beneficiaries. In any other situation, the executor must pay out what is owed to the recipients.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this guide is not intended to be a substitute for legal advice but as a basic guide to the application process. If you have concerns or queries you should consult a legal professional about your specific circumstances.