A potential pitfall of acting as a professional executor


Many professional advisors such as accountants and solicitors are often appointed as executors in their clients' Wills.  They are usually trusted advisors to their clients with detailed knowledge of their personal affairs, so it makes sense for them to be appointed. 

However, few professional advisors may realise that this could lead to their own executor, often their spouse or other loved ones, being appointed as executor for their deceased clients if the professional advisor were also to die.

This is because there can be an automatic transfer of the role of executor which is known as the "chain of representation" or "chain of executorship".   This is provided by section 7 of the Administration of Estates Act 1925 and happens when:

  • A sole or last surviving executor dies having already obtained a grant of probate in a deceased's estate; and
  • His executor has obtained a grant of probate in the deceased executor's estate.

By way of example, Jack, who is a solicitor, appoints his wife Jill as his executor.  Jack is also named as the sole executor, or will be the last surviving executor, in a number of his client's Wills.  Jack dies and at the time of his death he had obtained a grant of probate in seven of his client's estates where he was named as executor, but the administrations are still ongoing.  When Jill obtains a grant of probate for Jack's estate,  she also becomes the executor for the seven deceased clients and has the same accountability as Jack had before he died.

This will not be a particularly desirable outcome for many professional advisors and their clients and could come as a bit of a surprise for everyone involved!  But the good news is that it can be easily prevented by including an appropriate provision in the professional advisors Will to ensure that if this situation arises, a fellow professional can take over as executor.  If the professional advisor already has a Will in place, they can simply complete a Codicil to their Will which will have the same effect.

If you are a trusted advisor, and accept executor appointments from your clients, it would be worthwhile checking the arrangements you have made in your own Will.

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