What is probate?
When someone dies and leaves property, money and possessions (their estate) the executors role is to sort out who gets what in accordance with the deceased wishes.
To do this, the executors need what is known as a 'grant of representation'. This proves their authority to administer the estate. What form this takes will depend on whether a will has been left.
If the deceased left a will and appointed an executor (sometimes more than one executor is named and could be family members or professionals), these individuals will need to get what is known as a 'grant of probate'. However, if there is no will, the next of kin apply for what is known as a 'grant of letters of administration'.
The process of applying for the grant and the document executors use to manage the estate is often generically referred to as 'probate' – for the sake of this guide and simplicity, this is the term we will use. Probate is the same for everyone in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, but if you live in Scotland it's called 'confirmation'.
Being an executor or a trustee can involve a lot of paperwork, which may go on for months or even years depending on their role. Once you have enough copies of the death certificate the executors must obtain the value of all assets in the deceased’s sole or joint name and confirm how much they owe in taxes and bills outstanding at the date of death.
Executors must make sure all property and other assets owned by the deceased are safe and secure, and inform any insurers about the death.
If executors pay out the estate without clearing all the debts, they may have to settle them from their own pocket. It is possible to prevent this by placing statutory notices in local papers and the London Gazette. Low value assets may not need a grant of probate to be collected in, the asset holder will confirm this when they give the value.
The executors must make sure they have the original latest Will. If they pay out the estate to the wrong people under an earlier Will that has been revoked, again they are personally liable, so it is a good idea to pay for a Will search in whichever areas the deceased may have made a Will.
Put simply, and in order, the executor's job and the process of dealing with probate involves:
- Gathering any assets, eg, money left in bank accounts.
- Paying any bills.
- Distributing what's left according to the will.
Does everyone need probate?
Not necessarily, many estates don't need to go through this process. If there's only jointly-owned property and money which passes to a spouse or civil partner when someone dies, probate will not normally be needed.
A lot will depend on the content of the deceased’s will and the value of assets they held solely in their name. If you are unsure whether part or full probate is required you can contact our probate team who will be able to help and offer advice on what happens next.
How long does probate take?
Provided there are no complications, it usually takes between four and eight weeks to get a grant of probate after you've submitted the application. Once you've got it, the amount of time it takes to complete depends on the estate's complexity.
An estate that includes property to sell, or multiple shares and investments, will take longer to deal with than one simply consisting of money in a bank account. If the will is challenged then this could cause significant delays in getting the grant of probate.
Who will deal with probate?
Normally, we encourage family to deal with probate which can be relatively straight forward on simple estates. This can save a lot of money and can be sorted without involving Banks or Solicitors.
We have two downloadable guides* to help our clients, one is a DIY ‘Probate Guide’ and the second explains ‘Duties of an Executor’ to help family deal with the estate accordingly. Sometimes though, help will be needed so Foresight provides varying levels of support. (*These can be found in our useful links section on the website)
The levels we provide are:
Probate Assist (PA)
This option provides legal assistance to the executors on the paperwork side depending on the tax returns required (NRB, IHT205 or IHT400) and whether there were any trusts in the deceased will or tax advice is required.
There is a sliding scale price wise depending on what work is required but will be quoted for before clients agree to proceed.
Full Estate Administration Service (FEAS)
Our Full Administration Service includes start to finish administration of the estate.
It is especially appropriate where:
- you are not familiar with the probate process or the estate.
- you do not have the time to devote to administering the assets.
- the value of the estate is over £325,000.
- you are concerned about beneficiaries questioning your activities as executor.
The cost of our Full Estate Administration Service for a typical estate can be quoted as a fixed fee or it can work on a percentage basis of 1.5-2% of the total Estate, all fees quoted include VAT but will not include the Probate Registry’s fee.
The Full Estate administration Service includes:
- Advising on the terms of the will.
- Collecting together the relevant information about the number and location of assets and debts.
- Advising you on the notices you can advertise in order to reduce your potential liability as executor/administrator.
- Identifying the correct figures and arranging valuations for inheritance tax purposes.
- Completing and submitting the inheritance tax return to HMRC. If necessary, advising on taking out an executor’s loan to cover the tax.
- Dealing with HMRC in relation to any income tax or capital gains tax liability for years prior to the death and dealing with any tax liabilities that may arise during the administration.
- Dealing with the Department for Work and Pensions to ensure any benefits or pensions are stopped and handle any repayments.
- Liaising with utility companies in order to obtain a final account up to the date of death and where services need to be maintained, guiding the executors on their options.
- Guiding the executors on the need to maintain adequate insurance cover on the deceased’s assets during the period of administration.
- Obtaining the grant of probate/letters of administration.
- Arranging for legal notices to be advertised, if requested by the executors/administrators.
- Sending copies of the grant of probate/letters of administration to banks, building societies and other institutions holding money in order to obtain access to the deceased’s assets.
- collecting in assets and liquidating where necessary and discharging the liabilities
- making interim distributions where appropriate.
- preparing estate accounts and distributing the estate.
- There are some estates where the fee for this service may be more. These include estates:
- Valued at over £650,000.
- With significant assets located abroad.
- Which include business asset.
- Which include farms.
- With more than 10 separate holdings of shares or similar assets.
- With actual or some potential claims against it or some other unusual circumstances.
If the estate you are handling falls within one of these exceptions, we will still be able to provide you with a fixed cost quote, in writing. We take care of every detail, saving you stress and giving you time when you need it most.
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