We are here to help you. You do not have to carry all the responsibilities yourself. Please ask for further advice and assistance when worried or doubtful about what to do next.
What is Probate?
The validation of the Will by the Probate Registry confirms the appointment of Executors. The Probate Registry keeps the original Will and issues a sealed copy attached to the Grant of Probate (often called “the Probate”). It is this document which proves the rights of the Executors to deal with the deceased’s estate.
How is Probate obtained?
The Executors sign (and swear the truth of) an oath and pay a fee to the Registry. Solicitors deal with this through the post; you do not have to appear in Court or attend the registry. In some circumstances and for higher value estates the Executors have to complete an Account of Assets and Liabilities for HM Revenue and Customs. If there is Inheritance Tax to be paid the Executors will normally have to pay the tax first before Probate can be obtained. If there is no access to cash/bank, the Executors may have to take out a temporary loan at the expense of the deceased’s estate.
What if there is no Will?
There are rules to show who is the legal next of kin and thus who can deal with an estate. Provided they are over 18, they can apply to the Probate Registry for a Grant called “Letters of Administration”. Until this is done no-one has any authority to deal with the deceased’s estate.
Do I need a Solicitor?
When someone dies there are many decisions and arrangements to be made. The Executors or Administrators should see a Solicitor as soon as possible after getting the death registered. Occasionally it is wise to do this even before arranging the funeral or accepting custody of any possessions. For instance, if it is not clear whether the person has left a Will naming Executors; or there is likely to be a dispute about the Estate; or if there could be a claim for damages in connection with the death.
What do Solicitors charge?
A solicitor’s bill has to be fair and reasonable in all the circumstances. There is no set scale of charges because cases vary enormously in value and complexity. We can estimate these factors and give you a quotation. This will take into account the amount of time we would expect to spend on dealing with the matter. The value of the estate is also relevant.
Interim bills are submitted during the course of the matter and costs and disbursements are deducted from any funds we hold on behalf of the estate. Very occasionally it is necessary to ask for a deposit towards payment of initial expenses and fees.
Please do not hesitate to ask for further details.
What is the difference between Executors and Administrators?
Executors are named in the Will as the persons whom the deceased wishes to organise the funeral and deal with financial and property matters (the “estate”). Administrators do the same job but are authorised by the Probate Registry (a branch of the High Court) where there is no Will or where there are no executors named in the Will or they have already died. Grants of Administration are usually taken out by the deceased’s next of kin or, if a Will has been left, by a named beneficiary.
Is an Executor obliged to take on the Responsibility?
No. You can “renounce” and step aside (without losing the right to benefit under the Will) provided you have not interfered with the deceased’s estate or accepted liability.
What is involved in being an Executor or Administrator?
As the Executor or Administrator it is your job to:-
- make the funeral arrangements
- pay Inheritance Tax
- find out what assets and liabilities the deceased had
- collect any monies due and pay any outstanding bills
- transfer any assets to beneficiaries (if so directed in the Will) or convert the assets to cash and dispose of the estate in accordance with the Will or the Inheritance Rules.
Do Executors need to take the Will to Probate?
Not always. Some small accounts and personal possessions can be dealt with by showing a death certificate and a copy of the Will. This is particularly useful for National Savings investments or Building Society accounts with less than £5000 (or according to the limit set by a particular financial institution).
What about Trustees?
Executors or Administrators can become Trustees of money or property left by the deceased, either specifically in a Trust created by the Will or by virtue of Act of Parliament in some cases. An example would be where there was no Will and the deceased’s estate having to be shared between a surviving spouse or registered civil partner and children under 18.
Is this a heavy responsibility?
It can be and it is not always possible to cease acting as a Trustee once you have started acting as the Executor or Administrator. It is a position of trust where you are responsible for looking after what could amount to be a large sum of money. If you make a mistake you could be personally responsible to make up any loss.
It may prove to be time consuming when dealing with an estate and usually you can only recover your out-of-pocket expenses. You cannot charge for your time and effort. However, obtaining the help of a Solicitor will remove much of the responsibility and worry. Legal fees and other expenses such as valuation fees can be paid out of the deceased’s estate.
What steps should I take with regard to property?
If the deceased owned any property the deeds will be required for checking. If they are currently being stored at our office they will be retrieved from our storage department. Alternatively, we may need to establish the whereabouts of the deeds. If there is a mortgage on the property then the deeds will be retained by the Lender. An application to the Land Registry can be made to check whether the title relating to the property has been registered (The cost of this application is currently £3).
Is it important to maintain the property insurance?
It is essential that the buildings/contents are insured. Details of any current Insurance Policy will need to be checked. The Insurance Company will have to be notified if the property is unoccupied as they may place certain restrictions on the Policy.
If the property is uninsured, it will have to be placed on cover immediately and we can arrange this on your behalf.
What should be done regarding the house contents if the property is unoccupied?
If the property is unoccupied, you must make sure that it is secure and that all valuables are removed and placed in a safe place. We can also advise about house clearance if necessary.
What should I do about obtaining valuations?
Whether or not there is Inheritance Tax to pay, you need to have accurate values for house, contents, car, shares, jewellery, etc. We can advise about obtaining valuations and recommend suitably qualified agents to assist in the sale of any assets. Alternatively, you can arrange the valuations and provide us with details.
How do I protect myself from personal liability in respect of claims being made against the estate?
TRUSTEE ACT NOTICES
Trustee Act advertisements can be inserted in the local newspaper and the official London Gazette. These require anyone who has a potential claim against the estate to make their claim known within two months of the date of the appearance of the notices. It is advisable that executors or administrators insert the notices as they will then be protected against personal liability in the event of a valid claim being made against the estate after payment has been made to the beneficiaries. The cost of the notices would be in the region of £200. Unless you are able to make payment personally, we will therefore have to wait until we are in funds from the estate assets.
INHERITANCE (PROVISION FOR FAMILY AND DEPENDANTS) ACT 1975
It is possible for an ex-spouse, family member, civil partner, co-habitee or other dependant to make a claim against the estate under the above Act if they consider that insufficient provision has been made for them in any Will or the Intestacy. Any such claim would have to be commenced within 6 months of the date of issue of the Grant of Representation. It may be wise therefore to delay making payments to beneficiaries until the expiry of the 6 month period. Where this firm is appointed as executors no distribution of the estate funds will be made prior to the said period.
What happens now?
There is information we need from you to be able to commence the administration of the estate. This is contained in our standard Questionnaire. Once you have completed this Questionnaire and we are in possession of any relevant documents we will be able to commence work.
How long will it take?
As each case is different it is difficult to say. In general terms, however, obtaining the Grant of Probate or Administration normally takes approximately 2 – 4 months. Sales of any properties owned by the deceased are subject to the general housing market restrictions. Where a Trust has been created administration is, of course, an ongoing process.
Due to delays at the Probate Registry, Grants of Probate are taking longer than usual to process. Our Probate, Wills & Trusts team are working hard to support our clients through this difficult period.
How do I get further information?
Please ask for further advice and assistance when worried or doubtful about what to do next.
For further information please contact Mrs Maria Cosslett on 029 2080 3116 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mrs Cosslett is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives and a Member of the Society of Estate and Trusts Practitioners (STEP) and of the Solicitors for the Elderly (SFE).