What will happen if a will doesn't appoint an executor?

Date: Mar 24, 2015

Appointing an executor is an essential part of drafting a will as this person will be responsible for settling any debts that your estate is liable for, as well as applying for a grant of probate and ensuring that your estate is distributed according to the wishes laid out in your will.

Each will should appoint an executor, with many individuals choosing to appoint two - in case one predeceases them or one of them chooses to abdicate this responsibility. Will-makers have the option to either appoint the two as equals or to assign one as the secondary executor in the event the first cannot complete this responsibility.

However there can arise a position where no one has been appointed the executor of the estate, creating a new administrative burden for beneficiaries of the estate.

What happens if no executor is appointed?

In the event a will hasn't appointed any executor, the responsibility for administering the estate will likely fall to one of the beneficiaries. They can then apply for letters of administration in order to settle the estate.

Once this has been approved by the courts, this beneficiary will assume the rights and obligations that would have been assigned to the executor had one been appointed.

What if there are no living executors?

While the likelihood of a will not appointing an executor is relatively uncommon, there are other situations in which an executor cannot be appointed. This might occur for example if the executor(s) appointed have all predeceased the will-maker.

In this situation, the role of distributing the estate will fall to whoever is the executor of the estate belonging to the most recently deceased of the original executors. This process, known as the right of representation, will mean that person is responsible for administering both estates simultaneously.

This also highlights the importance of updating a will regularly. The death of an executor is just one of the conditions under which people should revise their will, with other events such as marriage of the will maker requiring a new will to be executed.

If you are considering drafting a will and want to learn more about appointing executors, or thinking about applying for letters of administration because no executor has been appointed, make sure to discuss this with a wills and estates lawyer.