In a recent edition of Mature Times, a question was raised about Executors and whether or not it was possible to appoint a charity to perform that task. Eifron Hopper, Head of Legacies at the RNIB, believes the short answer is that it often is, but it may not be the right thing for everybody.
The role of Executor is often complex and always one that requires a great deal of trust. Many people, of course, choose to appoint friends or members of their family to be their Executors. When the time comes, those Executors may employ Solicitors or other professionals to carry out the legal and administrative work involved, or they may decide to carry out this (sometimes very demanding and time-consuming) work themselves. These personal Executors may reclaim any expenses they incur, but they cannot usually charge for their time, unless the Will stipulates that they are entitled to do so.
Others may choose to appoint professional Executors such as a solicitor, accountant or bank trust company. Professional Executors may be well equipped to deal with the legal matters involved in administering an estate, but they may not be so well placed to carry out all the other tasks that fall to an Executor, such as clearing the house, finding papers, tracing family members and even arranging the funeral – all things that a friend or family member who is your Executor might do. These professional Executors will usually charge (at a rate agreed in advance) for the legal work and also make a charge to cover the time taken up in acting as Executor and carrying out all the non-legal work mentioned above.
There are some fairly detailed rules about who may be an Executor but many charities (RNIB included) have the required legal standing to be an Executor. Charities vary in their approach to this. In RNIB’s case, we do not promote this facility to any great extent, but is something that we can offer if we encounter a supporter who has no other option.
If we are appointed to act as Executor we would, unless the estate is extremely simple, use Solicitors to do the legal work and would have to pay appropriate fees for that, as mentioned above. Of course, we usually instruct a firm that understands how we work and will do a good job at a reasonable rate.
Any cost-saving that is made by appointing a charity as Executor comes because, just as with personal Executors, we would not charge (apart from travel expenses etc.) for the responsibility of acting as Executor.
We don’t (nor should we) require someone to leave us a legacy before agreeing to act as Executor, but we trust people will bear in mind the fact that the responsibilities mentioned above will take up a considerable amount of time and that time is then not available for us to devote to the rest of our work as a charity. In practice, my experience is that, in most cases in which we have been appointed as Executor, we have been left a legacy anyway because the person concerned believed in the cause and was a supporter of the charity.
Concern was expressed in letters to Mature Times that professional Executors might overcharge and claim for expense that they should not. It is probably worth mentioning at this point that if a Will leaves a legacy to a charity, or charities, the charities concerned will often have experienced Legacy Officers (as we do at RNIB), who check the accounts and monitor the work of the Executor – in the nicest possible way, of course.
We are required by the Charity Commission to ensure that the charities we represent receive everything that the deceased intended them to get and that there are no unreasonable or unauthorised fees, expenses or other payments paid out of the estate.