Frequently Asked Questions About Probate
What does Probate mean?
‘Probate’ is a term frequently used when talking about applying for the right to deal with a deceased person’s affairs. It may also be called ‘administering the estate’.
Who is responsible for dealing with an estate?
If the deceased left a will then the persons named in the will as executors are responsible for dealing with the deceased’s affairs. The executor(s) will apply for a ‘grant of probate’ from a section of the court known as the probate registry. The grant is a legal document which confirms that the executor(s) have the authority to deal with the deceased person’s assets (property, money and possessions). If the estate is small it may not be necessary to apply for a grant of probate. If there is no will, then the persons entitled to the estate in accordance with the laws of intestacy may apply to the probate registry to deal with the estate. In this case the persons with responsibility for the estate are called administrators and they will apply to the probate registry for a ‘grant of letters of administration’. Like the grant of probate, the grant of letters of administration is a legal document which confirms the administrators’ authority to deal with the deceased person’s assets
What is involved?
The following are steps that must be taken when dealing with the administration of an estate
- Liaising with all executors/administrators at each and every stage of the administration of the estate
- Corresponding with all beneficiaries
- Contacting the deceased’s bank, financial institutions and other non-property asset holders to inform of the death and to obtain valuations
- Completing Inheritance Tax Form IHT205 or IHT400 as necessary
- Handling payment correspondence with the funeral directors
- Dealing with all correspondence with the Inland Revenue and making sure all taxes are paid as appropriate including completion of form R27
- Dealing with switching off and cancelling utilities and insurance on vacant property
- Arranging valuations of personal chattels (e.g. furniture) and assets (e.g. shares, property) as required
- Liaising with employers or the Department of Work and Pensions in regards to any income received in the tax year and ensuring any rebate is received
- Placing statutory notices in the London Gazette and a local newspaper
- Arranging the sale or transfer of any property owned by the deceased
- Preparing final estate accounts to be agreed by all executors/administrators and thereafter accounting to the residuary beneficiaries as required
- Carrying out bankruptcy searches on all beneficiaries
- Obtaining receipts from all beneficiaries
Is a grant always needed?
A grant is usually required in most cases where the estate consists of one or more of the following items:
- stocks or shares
- certain insurance policies
- property or land held in the deceased’s sole name or in joint names as ‘tenants in common’
A grant may not be needed where the deceased left less than £5,000.00 and/or held everything jointly with someone else and everything passes automatically to the surviving joint owner.
How long does it take?
This will depend upon the complexity of the case but it should normally be possible to apply for the grant of representation within three months of the date of death. If the estate is complex, for example, if it involves payment of inheritance tax or foreign assets, it is likely to take longer than three months to obtain a grant. If inheritance tax is payable this must be paid before the grant will be issued by the probate registry. Once any inheritance tax liability has been settled the probate registry will usually issue the grant within ten working days. We are usually able to finalise an estate three to six months after obtaining the grant. However, the matter may take longer for example, if we have to deal with the sale of a property, foreign assets, private company shares or complex tax issues.
Why should I use a solicitor?
There are a number of reasons why you might wish to instruct a solicitor to deal with the estate on your behalf:
- You will be dealing with the loss of a loved one
- There may be family disputes and appointing a solicitor who can offer impartiality and professionalism may aid the situation
- Executors are personally liable to the creditors and beneficiaries of the estate, therefore if you make a mistake you will have to put things right out of your own pocket. Solicitors are used to handling this type of work and in the unlikely event that they do make a mistake, they are insured.
- A solicitor will be able to provide professional help and guidance throughout the matter
How much will it cost?
This will depend on the level of involvement you require from your solicitor. If you feel confident in dealing with the financial institutions and creditors of the estate, then you may simply wish to instruct a solicitor to obtain the grant of representation on your behalf. Once the grant is issued you will then be responsible for collecting in the assets and distributing in accordance with the terms of the will or rules of intestacy. If you wish to instruct us to obtain the grant only, then our fees are fixed at £500 plus VAT and disbursements (such as court fees). Disbursements usually amount to approximately £75. We will require full details of the assets and liabilities from you at our initial meeting. If you wish for us to deal with the entire administration then our fees will be charged on a time and cost basis. At our initial meeting we will require full details of the assets and liabilities of the estate in order that we may provide you with an estimate as to the likely cost of your case.