Find out if there is a Will
The will should set out who the executors are – the people responsible for dealing with the assets within the estate and ensuring that they are distributed in accordance with the will. If the executors are not family members, make sure they are informed as soon as possible about what has happened.
If there is no will, then the intestacy rules apply. These say who should deal with the estate; these people are called administrators.
Administrators and executors have the same duties and responsibilities and are known as Personal Representatives (‘PRs’).
Probate – Immediate matters
Register the death with the Registrar of Births and Deaths for the sub-district where the death occurred. Phone them for an appointment; they will tell you exactly what information you need to take to the appointment.
Make arrangements for the funeral. Check the will to see if the deceased had any special funeral wishes and ensure the funeral director knows about these.
Identify assets and debts
The PRs are responsible for finding out what assets the deceased owned – e.g. bank and building society accounts, property, insurance policies, shares, premium savings bonds. Each bank, building society, company, insurer or registrar will have to be informed of the death and date of death balances obtained. PRs are also responsible for obtaining details of any outstanding debts – newspaper bills or outstanding care home fees for example -and ensuring these are paid.
Grant of Probate
A Grant is a formal document issued by the Probate Registry confirming the authority of the PRs to deal with the administration of the estate. If there is a will, a Grant of Probate is obtained; if the deceased died without a will, you need a Grant of Letters of Administration.
Grant of Probate is not always necessary for example if the value of the assets is small, no house is involved, or all the investments are held in joint names.
A Grant cannot be applied for until any Inheritance Tax (“IHT”) due has been paid and a receipt obtained – which must be produced to the Probate Registry. An IHT account giving details of the assets within the estate and the debts must be prepared, together with a short oath which the PRs must swear.
Collecting and Distributing the Assets
Once the Grant has been obtained, the PRs will need to show it to all the organisations the deceased held investments with – banks, building societies, insurance companies, company registrars and soon – enabling them to arrange release of the money. PRs can then pay any debts and expenses before distributing what remains to those entitled under the will or intestacy. The assets do not necessarily have to be cashed; shares can, for example, be transferred to those entitled if they wish to keep them.
How long does Probate take?
It is very difficult to give an accurate indication of how long it takes to complete the administration of an estate because no two are alike. Tensions or disputes between family members and beneficiaries, large numbers of assets, and complicated assets such as businesses or farms all cause delay; many banks and building societies can also be very slow indeed to provide information and close accounts and this can cause delays of around 10 weeks. Selling property can also cause delays particularly in the current market.
As a general estimate, it takes between 6 months and a year to complete a routine administration.
It is possible for PRs to obtain a Grant personally by visiting the Probate Registry and some people feel happy and able to deal with the process themselves. For others, however, the time involved in dealing with the administration of an estate is very off putting and many find themselves unable to manage all the paperwork at a time when they are trying to come to terms with the loss of a loved one.
We have Solicitors who specialise in the administration of estates. They have experience of all the problems which can occur and are familiar with the many procedures involved.
If someone decides to make a new will or revoke an earlier will, they should ensure that the earlier will is in fact destroyed. Burning is usually the best way to destroy a will and make sure that there is no remaining legible text.
A problem arises however if after destroying their will, a person fails to make a new will before they die. In this case the person dies intestate – as if they had never made a will in the first place.
The situation is however quite different if somebody else destroys your will without your permission. In these circumstances, your will is still valid – however there may be significant practical problems in actually proving the contents of the will – unless there are copies of the destroyed will.
How much does Probate cost?
We offer a FREE initial phone consultation when our solicitors should be able to give you an estimate of our legal fees.
Our specialist solicitors deal with Probate and estate administration cases both in Wiltshire, Hampshire and Dorset, and throughout England and Wales – for locally based clients and expats based overseas.