When someone dies, you need to be able to deal with their assets and possessions (their ‘estate’) and distribute them according to their wishes. You might need to apply for a ‘grant of representation’, which is known as ‘probate’. You can either apply for yourself, or use a lawyer to apply for you.
A lot of people will start out thinking they can handle probate by themselves – but soon find out it as not as easy as they thought. Often it can be too much to deal with, especially if they are already trying to handle the grief of losing a loved one. A probate specialist will typically handle the matter more quickly, dealing with tax matters and ensuring no assets are missed.
You should always consider using professional probate services such as ours where:
- The value of the estate is over the Inheritance Tax threshold
- The estate is still earning a regular income
- There is no Will and the estate is not straightforward
- There are any doubts at all about the validity of the Will
- The deceased had dependants who they left out of the will
- There is any possibility that the Will might be challenged
- The estate has any complexities, such as assets held in a trust
- The estate is bankrupt
- The estate includes foreign property or foreign assets – issues here include double taxation and forced-heirship amongst others
- For tax purposes the deceased resided outside of the UK (non-UK domiciled individuals)
We can provide you with affordable cost effective probate services.
What is probate?
Generally when we use the term 'probate', we are referring to administering the estate of a Deceased person. Simply put, this means collecting in all their assets, paying their debts, handling tax and legal matters, and ultimately distributing the estate to those entitled. In fact 'Probate' is a reference to the legal documentation needed to carry out this work. Where the Deceased left a Will, a 'Grant of Probate' must be obtained to administer the estate. If they did not make a Will, a Grant of 'Letters of Administration' will be necessary.
The first step, therefore, is to check whether or not the Deceased person left a Will. If they did, this will name the persons who are entitled to deal with their estate. If not, there are statutory rules which set out who can deal with the estate.
When is probate required?
Probate will not usually be required for small estates in England and Wales. Typically an estate will be classed as small where the value of the estate is £5,000 or less. For estates that are worth £5,000 or more, or for estates that contain property which is not jointly owned, probate will usually be required.
Quite often you may be told by others that 'probate isn’t needed'. Our experience is that this is usually not the case as they are simply not privy to all the facts and are taking things on face value. Our advice is to contact us in the ﬁrst instance and we will be pleased to advise as to whether probate is required.
How long does probate take?
It takes between four and eight weeks to obtain the Grant itself.
However, typically the entire probate process will take between 9 and 12 months in England and Wales, regardless of whether the Deceased made a Will or not. This includes both obtaining the Grant of Probate (or Letters of Administration if there is no Will) and completing administration of the Estate. Very simple estates may not take as long - while more complex estates can take longer. Matters such as having to sell a property or dealing with property abroad can create delays. Further, if there is no Will, identifying and locating the correct beneficiaries can take time.
Executors will not usually distribute the estate within 6 months, to avoid incurring any personal liability from claims against the estate.
Generally administering an estate takes a significant amount of legal, tax and admin work. Even if the Deceased appointed Executors, they may not be able to complete the work quickly because of personal commitments and consequently, the Probate process will take longer. Many Executors therefore choose to appoint a specialist probate solicitor to do the work on their behalf for this reason.
What do probate solicitors do?
There are two aspects that a probate solicitor can assist with. The first is obtaining the Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration; and the second is administering the estate. Some probate solicitors only deal with one of these aspects; others deal with both.
Obtaining the Grant of Probate involves submitting a probate application form together with the appropriate Inheritance Tax forms, paying the inheritance tax due, and sending off a range of paperwork.
Administering the Estate involves informing all relevant organisations of the Deceased's death, closing their accounts and collecting in their assets, identifying their debts and advertising for creditors, paying the debts (prioritising if necessary), claiming life insurance if applicable, valuing the estate, preparing and submitting final accounts (paying any additional tax due), and distributing the balance to the beneficiaries.
There is a lot of work involved and many lay Executors find they don't have the time to tackle all of these tasks with their existing commitments. Our probate solicitors can agree with you which aspects of the process you are happy to deal with and which you would like help with, before offering you a competitive quote.
What is the process for applying for probate?
To apply for the Grant of Probate, you must submit a probate application form (PA1P) together with the correct Inheritance Tax forms (IHT205 or IHT400 and IHT435 if applicable). You will need to pay any inheritance tax due and send off the correct paperwork to the probate registry, including the application fee, an official copy of the death certificate, together with the original will and three copies. If there are insufficient liquid assets in the estate to pay the inheritance tax (for example, cash in a bank account), you will need to pay from your own pocket or arrange a loan. You'll then recoup the money paid from the estate at a later date when the assets are sold.
You'll then need to inform all relevant organisations, closing accounts and collecting in the assets. You'll identify any debts, placing an advert in The Gazette - and then pay debts in correct priority order. Claims on any life insurance policies should also be made. Once assets have been collected in and debts dealt with, you will value the estate, submit final accounts and distribute what's left to the appropriate beneficiaries. This should not be done before 6 months has passed, to avoid personal liability from claims.
There is a great deal of legal, administrative and tax work involved in dealing with an estate. We appreciate that this can often come at an already stressful time. Our probate lawyers are here to offer as much or as little support as you need in administering the estate of your loved one.
Our probate services
April King’s team offer a friendly and professional fixed fee service. We will visit you at home and explain the processes for Probate and Estate Administration to you, providing initial advice and guidance completely free of charge. This will help you to make the necessary decisions about what you should do next. If you use our team to deal with probate on your behalf, our probate solicitors can take care of as little or as much of the estate administration process as you choose, for a highly competitive fee.
More information on probate:
From the blog:
The controversial plans to raise the fees payable on making a grant of probate have been shelved, ahead of the general election. These may be revisited in the future.
Changes to Bereavement Payments, Widowed Parent’s Allowance and Bereavement Allowance are the latest in a number of measures that target those already struggling to cope with both their grief and the financial impact of losing their partner.
The Ministry of Justice has confirmed that the Government’s plans to increase non-contentious probate fees from May 2017 will go ahead.