What happens if the executor of a will is dead?

If the executor of a will dies before the person’s estate has been distributed, the responsibility of applying for probate will fall to someone else. 

An executor is the person chosen to distribute the contents of a will after someone has died. They will be appointed by the testator (the person who wrote the will). 

It is not unheard of for the executor of the will to pass away before the testator. If this happens, ideally the testator should appoint a new executor in their place. However, in some cases this is not possible - for example, if there’s not enough time before the testator passes away. 

Luckily it’s still possible to obtain a grant of probate and distribute the estate of the person who passed away, and you can find out whose responsibility this is by following something called Non Contentious Probate Rules (NCPR) 1987.  

These rules will also apply if the executor becomes unable to carry out their duties for other reasons, for example if they become incapacitated or decide to renounce their duties. 

Other executors 

When you write a will it is recommended that you appoint several executors for this exact reason. As a result, if somebody’s executor dies before them, there may be several co-executors, or a successor executor. 

If there are other executors then the process is effectively unchanged, and the remaining executor(s) must then apply for a grant of representation, which includes a grant of probate

What if there are no other executors? 

If there are no other executors, or all the other executors have also passed away, then the NCPR 1987 mentioned above will be followed again. It is likely that the beneficiary receiving the largest part of the deceased’s estate will have the right to carry out the executor’s duties. 

If the estate is split equally between two or more beneficiaries, only a maximum of four of them can apply for probate. So, if someone splits their estate equally between five children, any four out of the five can apply for probate. It’s then up to the family to decide who should actually deal with the estate – from a logistical point of view it’s best of only two of them do this. 

What if the executor dies after probate has been granted? 

If the executor dies between probate being granted and the estate being distributed, what happens next depends on whether the original executor left a will. If they did, then it’s the responsibility of their executor to administer the estate of the first person. 

If they did not then the NCPR 1987 must be followed again. As with the original person, it is likely the responsibility would fall to the beneficiary that receives the largest sum of the estate of the original executor. 


If a loved one passes away and there are no executors left to administer their estate, there are regulations in place to deal with this exact situation, so try not to worry. But it is recommended that you seek legal advice to find out what the next steps are. 



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Steve Clark

Steve creates helpful guides for The Law Superstore. He enjoys digging deep into new areas of the law, supporting partners, and translating legalese and jargon into plain English everyone can understand.