What Is Probate?
A bereavement is an extremely difficult time in any circumstances.
An additional cause of stress and worry can be knowing that your loved one’s financial affairs need to be dealt with and their Estate wound up appropriately.
The role of winding up an Estate/administering an Estate falls on the legally appointed Executors of the Deceased’s Will if they have made one. If there is no Will this is called ‘Intestacy’ and usually the Deceased’s next of kin will take on the role as Personal Representatives (PR’s)to administer the Deceased’s Estate accordingly. Administering an Estate is effectively gathering all the Deceased’s assets and paying all liabilities in the Estate, then distributing remaining assets accordingly to the relevant beneficiaries in accordance with the Will or Intestacy Law.
How a Solicitor can Assist
Whilst Executors/PR’s can administer the Estate themselves with guidance from the Probate Office in the High Court, without taking any independent legal advice, they can often underestimate the significance and personal accountability that comes with this role. Executors/PRs are legally responsible for protecting and securing a Deceased’s assets after their passing. A Solicitor can assist with these matters and take a great deal of the pressure off and guide the Executors/PR’s through the process.
There are various matters that require to be dealt with such as Inheritance Tax payments (if any), Income Tax Accounts for the Deceased until the date of death, any Capital Gains Tax realised by the administration of the Estate, Inheritance Tax Forms and Court Applications.
Where required and usually in any Estate where there are assets over £10,000, an application will need to be made to the Court for a Grant of Probate (when the Deceased has made a valid legal Will) or Letters of Administration (where the Deceased is in Intestate and there is no valid legal Will). Grant of Probate/Letters of Administration are required in order to legally uplift monies from any of the Deceased’s Bank Accounts, Investments, etc and to legally transfer land or property owned by the Deceased to the relevant Beneficiary. The application to the Court includes any relevant Inheritance Tax Forms and payment when applicable.
The Executors/PR’s will firstly need to ascertain all the assets in an Estate, including details of any lifetime gifts and obtaining Professional Valuations where needed for land, property and shares. It is important that all valuations are as accurate as they can be as HMRC will expect detailed information to be submitted in any Inheritance Tax Returns, especially if there is an Inheritance Tax liability in the Estate.
The Executors/PR’s are also required to identify all creditors of the Estate and discharge any liabilities before making any distribution of the Estate to the relevant beneficiaries. An Executor/PR can be held personally liable for any debt unpaid from the Estate.
When making any distributions to the beneficiaries of the Estate, Executors/Personal Representatives should provide them with a set of detailed Accounts in respect of the Estate and how the figures have arisen, etc.
As can be seen there is a substantial amount of work involved in the role as Executor/PR as well as the element of personal liability. Efficient and professional legal support does assist enormously, especially in a time where you are also grieving a loved one.