Find out if there is a Will
The will should set out who the executors are – the people responsible for probate – ie 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’).
Click here to find out more about the duties of an executor
Think you could need help with administering an estate? Call our team on FREEPHONE 0800 1404544 or one of our four local office numbers for FREE initial phone advice – no strings attached.
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.
Click here to find your local register of births and deaths.
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.
It is also essential to carefully review all financial documentation of the deceased for investments such as insurance policies, stocks, bonds or share certificates.
PRs are also responsible for obtaining details of any outstanding debts. Debts can include regular bills such as quarterly TV licenses, credit cards or utility bills, newspaper bills or outstanding care home fees for example – and ensuring these are paid.
You might also want to consider the government’s very useful Tell Us Once service. This allows you to you report any death to most government organisations in one go.
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.
There are some additional situations in which a grant of probate is not required. These usually include small estates where the value of the property and assets is less than £5,000 or when there is no tenant in common ownership of property or lands. Additionally if the deceased had no investments such as stocks or bonds or did not possess a specific type of insurance there may be no need to obtain and grant of probate.
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.
As a general estimate, it takes between 6 months and a year to complete a routine estate administration.
Once you have a good idea of their financial picture you can then complete the requirements on the PA1 Probate Application Form, a 15 page government form.
The PA1 form is conveniently located online through the UK Probate Office website or you can request a paper copy at any Probate Office. In addition to the financial information required on the form you will also need to provide an original death certificate and pay the required inheritance tax. This inheritance tax is calculated on a separate form that is also available online or through the Probate Office. It is important to note that the forms required are not the same if there is an inheritance tax to be paid so this calculation should be completed first.
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.
Click here to read more about the risks of DIY probate
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.
Grants Of Letters Of Administration And The Intestacy Rules
If you’re involved with sorting out the estate of a person who has died without leaving a will, then you may have come across the term “grants of letters of administration”. This is an important part of the whole probate process, and as such, requires a little clarification.
Anybody who dies without a valid will in place is declared intestate. Most people are familiar with the idea that this affects the way in which the estate is distributed. The Instestacy Rules define who may inherit and in what order, which may or may not be in accordance with the deceased’s wishes.
However, a lesser known aspect of intestacy is that the rules also define who can administer the estate – usually a close family member. The nominated administrator must apply to the court for a “grant of letters of administration”. This is a very important document, since it literally empowers the administrator to do their job, enabling them to deal with bank accounts, dispose of assets and so on.
Intestacy is a complicated situation, which can be quite difficult for the lay person to handle. Understanding the terms you are likely to hear and the processes involved can at least go some way towards resolving these difficulties.
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. we are happy to discuss with you how much of the work you want us to carry out. We regularly assist with probate work for executors want to keep the costs of estate Administrationdown by doing much of the work themselves.
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.
Probate Terms Explained
Unless you are a legal professional, you are probably unfamiliar with most of the terms in probate. But if you are dealing with probate it is important to understand some of the key terminology used.
Here are some explanations of some of the more common terms used in probate;
• Administrator – In the absence of a Will, this person deals with the deceased’s assets.
• Assets – All possessions of the deceased.
• Beneficiary – A person who receives the deceased’s asset.
• Codicil – A separate document which is added to a Will.
• Contested Probate – The process of disputing a will. Click here to read more about contesting a will
• Distribution – Allocating the estate to the one or more beneficiaries
• Estate – Everything that belonged to the person that died including money and property.
• Executor – Appointed by the Will, they handle the assets.
• Grant of letters of administration – In the absence of a Will this gives a legal right for the deceased’s assets to be distributed.
• Grant of probate – gives a legal right for the deceased’s assets to be distributed.
• IHT (Inheritance Tax) – The tax that will be paid on the deceased’s estate.
• Intestate – Dying “intestate” is dying without having made a Will.
• Life Interest – Assets from the estate will go to another beneficiary when the original beneficiary dies.
• Probate Registry – The Court which must ensure validity of a Will and that applicants that want to handle the estate are entitled to do so.
Can you represent me if the estate is based in Scotland and Northern Ireland?
Unfortunately not. Although the United Kingdom is often supposed to be one country, different laws apply in different parts of it. With regard to obtaining probate for example, the laws of England and Wales different from those found in Scotland and Northern Ireland ; although those in Northern Ireland are similar to the larger area of the UK, Scottish law is very different.
For instance, a Grant of Representation in the UK, where a person applies to the court to administer the estate of a deceased person, is called a Grant of Confirmation in Scotland, and different official application forms are necessary.