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Probate solicitors

We understand that the administration of a person's estate can be a complex, time consuming and often emotional time. That's why our probate solicitors work with you to take the strain and make the process as straightforward as possible.

Society of Trusts and Estate Practitioners

It has always been possible for Personal Representatives to make a personal application to the probate registry but is it advisable?

Personal Representatives are personally liable for any acts or omissions conducted by them in relation to the administration of an estate. This can and should be a daunting prospect for anybody appointed in the role of a Personal Representative.

In the majority of cases, it is advisable to engage a probate solicitor from the outset of the estate administration so that they can identify and address any immediate legal issues that may be involved. There are a number of complexities which can arise during the administration of an estate and it is important for these to be identified and dealt with as soon as possible.

Personal Representatives are responsible for the administration of the estate, which involves:

  • Submitting an Inheritance Tax Return (required on all estates)
  • Obtaining the Grant of Probate or Grant of Letters of Administration (if there is no Will)
  • Gathering in the deceased's assets
  • Paying any debts and liabilities
  • Paying the legacies as set out in the Will
  • Setting up and dealing with the administration of any trusts set up under the deceased's Will
  • Obtaining tax clearance
  • Distribution of what is left over.

There can also be other complicating factors to contend with such as:

  • Domicile — Identifying the deceased’s domicile is critical as it will confirm which country’s succession laws will apply and the tax regime applicable to the deceased’s estate.
  • Intestacy — Identifying who is entitled to a deceased’s estate where there is no Will dictates not only who benefits from the deceased’s assets but also who has authority to deal with the deceased’s affairs. It is not automatic that a deceased’s spouse will inherit the whole of the estate. There is no provision for cohabitees to benefit from a deceased partner’s estate on their death.
  • Assets outside the UK — If the deceased owned property and assets outside the UK, it will be necessary to ascertain whether they left a will in that country. It will also be necessary to identify the relevant law which applies to the distribution of those assets. We are used to liaising with foreign lawyers and applying for foreign Grants of Representation to be resealed at court.
  • Tax — Care should be taken in identifying the values of the deceased’s assets and liabilities and preparing the Inheritance Tax account for the estate. Calculating the Inheritance Tax due on a deceased’s estate can be a complex process and advice should be sought to avoid any penalties for late payment or non-disclosure of relevant assets. Personal Representatives are personally liable for any unpaid inheritance tax.
  • Business Assets — If the deceased had an interest in a business, input will undoubtedly be required to assist with the mechanics of transferring that interest to the intended beneficiaries. It is also possible that Inheritance Tax reliefs may be available to offset against the value of business assets as part of the application to HMRC.
  • Trusts — If the deceased’s will includes one or more will trusts, additional steps will need to be undertaken by the executor (who may also be the trustee) to set up the trust. There will then be ongoing administration of the trusts, and depending on the nature of the property held, it is almost certain that the executor/trustee will need to instruct a solicitor and an accountant to prepare tax returns and trust accounts.
  • Minor beneficiaries — If the deceased’s will includes one or more minor beneficiaries, additional steps will need to be undertaken by the executor in relation to that child’s entitlement. It is not always possible or sensible to discharge a legacy to a minor child by obtaining receipt from that child’s parents or legal guardian.
  • Estate liabilities and creditors — Personal Representatives can be held personally liable if they distribute an estate prior to paying any estate liabilities. Even unknown creditors can seek recovery of debts of a deceased from their Personal Representatives.
  • Validity of the Will — It is possible for third parties to challenge the formal validity of a will, most commonly where there are allegations that the deceased lacked the necessary testamentary capacity when their will was executed, or there may be allegations of undue influence. If there is any suggestion of the will being challenged, the executors should consult a solicitor as soon as possible.
  • Claims against the estate — There are certain categories of people who will automatically qualify to bring a claim under the Inheritance Provision for Family and Dependents Act 1975. Defending such claims can be costly and time-consuming and Personal Representatives need to be fully appraised of their duties and obligations in such circumstances where this is a relevant consideration.
  • Post death variations — Beneficiaries of an estate may wish to vary their entitlement under the Will as part of their own Estate Planning. We can advise executors and/or beneficiaries how this should be done, both administratively and in the most tax-efficient manner.
  • Dealing with the deceased’s cryptoassets and digital legacy — Cryptoassets such as bitcoin do form part of a deceased’s estate for taxation and distribution purposes and a date of death valuation of these assets will need to be obtained alongside any other assets of the estate. This can cause difficulties for executors who are unfamiliar with this sort of investment. Executors may also require assistance with dealing with the deceased’s digital legacy, which can include things like photographs and music stored digitally, and email accounts. Under current legislation, accessing a deceased’s online accounts post-death can be a criminal offence, even if passwords have been volunteered prior to death. Appropriate care and advice should be taken by executors when dealing with these matters.

The role of a Personal Representative is complex and onerous and the responsibility of acting in this capacity should be taken seriously. Getting it wrong could be costly for you personally even if you are not a beneficiary of the estate.

Our probate solicitors are able to advise and assist Personal Representatives in administering an estate or to provide advice regarding particular aspects of estate administration. Contact any member of the team for reliable and trusted advice.

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Frequently asked questions

  • I am appointed as an Executor. What do I need to do?

    The work involved in administering an estate will depend on its value and the individual assets and liabilities involved. The immediate priorities are to register the death and make the funeral arrangements.

    The Executor(s) have a duty to ensure the estate is administered in accordance with the Will (or the rules of intestacy, as the case may be). This includes, but is not limited to, dealing with all assets and liabilities, paying any tax which is due and ensuring that the estate is paid to the correct beneficiaries.

    Acting as an Executor can be very time consuming. There are legal duties which must be fulfilled and timescales which must be met. Executors can often come under pressure from bereaved families but can also be held personally liable if creditors are missed or the estate is paid to incorrect beneficiaries, even if this is done inadvertently.

  • What is a Grant of Probate?

    A Grant of Probate is a formal legal document which is issued by the Probate Registry and which authorises the Executors of a Will (or their attorneys) to carry out the administration of a deceased person’s estate by collecting in their assets, discharging all liabilities and carrying out the terms of the Will when distributing the net estate. An application for a Grant of Probate is the formal legal process through which executors apply to prove the last Will and Testament of the deceased.

    If there is no Will, or if the Executors appointed in a Will are unable or unwilling to act, an application is made to the Probate Registry for a Grant of Letters of Administration instead. Both the Grant of Probate and the Grant of Letters of Administration can be referred to as a Grant of Representation.

  • Is it always necessary to apply for a Grant of Representation?

    No, it is not always necessary to apply for a Grant of Representation. Small estates with assets up to a value of £5,000 can usually be transferred without going through the probate process.

    Similarly, if the only assets in the deceased’s estate are jointly held property and cash, which are only to be transferred to a spouse or civil partner, probate will not usually be required.

  • How long does it take to obtain a Grant of Representation?

    If a Will is uncontested, it takes on average six to nine months to complete the administration of an average sized estate. There are a number of factors which can substantially increase the length of time it takes to complete the administration of an estate, including; challenges to a Will, assets outside the UK, complex family circumstances, complex assets such as an interest in a trading business, if the estate is taxable.

  • Is a Grant of Representation required if I have a joint bank account?

    If you share a joint bank account with someone who has died, you will not need a Grant of Representation to access the money in the account. However, your bank will need to see a death certificate before transferring the funds into your name.

  • What stages does the administration of an estate consist of?

    The complexity of the process of administering a deceased person’s estate varies depending on the complexity of the deceased's assets. The process can, however, be broken down into five main phases.

    1. Identify the value of the estate

    All the deceased’s assets, such as property, bank accounts, investments and possessions will need to be identified, along with their liabilities, such as debts, unpaid bills and outstanding taxes. Once this is complete, you will be able to determine the value of the estate.

    2. Apply for a Grant of Representation

    In order to obtain the legal authority to administer an estate, you will need to apply to the Probate Registry for a Grant of Representation. At this stage, you will also be required to submit an Inheritance Tax account and pay any applicable Inheritance Tax.

    3. Collecting in the assets and discharging the liabilities

    After you have obtained the Grant of Representation, you will be able to sell, transfer or encash the deceased's assets and settle any outstanding liabilities. You will then need to pay administration expenses and any further tax which may be due, such as Income Tax or Capital Gains Tax.

    4. Preparing estate accounts

    You will then be required to prepare accounts, showing all monies into and out of the estate and showing the remaining sum left for payment to beneficiaries of the estate.

    5. Distributing the assets

    The final stage of the process is to distribute the assets to the beneficiaries of the estate. This should include obtaining relevant ID and conducting bankruptcy searches.

    6. Can I apply for a Grant of Representation myself or do I need a Solicitor to assist me

    Executors are personally liable for any acts or omissions conducted by them which cause loss to the estate. This is the case whether those acts or omissions were made in good faith or not. Whilst it is possible to apply for a Grant of Representation personally, the role of an Executor is an onerous one and it may be prudent to seek legal advice to mitigate the risks involved. See our article Why use a solicitor for further information.

  • How long does the probate process take?

    The time it will take to administer an estate depends on the nature and complexity of the deceased’s affairs. The Executors must collate the necessary information and make enquiries into the deceased’s affairs before they can apply for a Grant of Probate or a Grant of Letters of Administration. It can often take up to 6 months (or longer) before the Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration is granted. It can then take at least a further 6-12 months before the administration of the estate is finalised.

    If the estate is subject to Inheritance Tax, the process can take much longer as the Executors must finalise the Inheritance Tax position and obtain clearance from HMRC.

    The administration can become further protracted if the Will is challenged or a claim arises under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. Please see our Disputed Wills, Trusts and Estates page for more information on claims against estates.

  • Are cryptoassets taxable for Inheritance Tax purposes?

    Yes, cryptoassets do form part of a deceased’s estate for taxation purposes. It is important that people who own cryptoassets make their executors aware of the existence of these assets and how to access them after death. If the deceased has not provided access to their Private Key, the value of these assets will be lost. It is the responsibility of the Personal Representatives to declare the value of these assets to HMRC.

  • Will my executors be able to deal with my digital legacy when I die?

    The phrase ‘digital legacy’ can include anything from cryptoassets such as bitcoin to photographs and music stored digitally, email accounts and online retail, social media or gambling accounts. It is advisable to provide sufficient information relating to your digital legacy to enable your executors to deal with it effectively when you die. Providing access to passwords may not be sufficient as under current legislation, accessing a deceased’s online accounts post death can be a criminal offence. Make sure that you take advice from a professional advisor about how best to deal with your digital legacy.

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