Understanding the Probate process

Private Client Team with Natalie Thomas - DJM Solicitors

Losing a loved one can be a confusing and difficult time. Not only will you deal with grief, but often you are faced with dealing with their financial affairs.  

We would suggest you establish early on if the deceased left a will, if so, who they appointed as the executors of the will. The executor(s) are the people appointed to administer the estate, this will include making initial decisions such as registering the death and organising the funeral.

If the deceased did not make a will, then under the Rules of Intestacy there is a list of persons in propriety who are entitled to administer the estate and take care of these decision.

Regardless of who is entitled to benefit from the estate, the executors have a duty to notify all the financial institutions where the deceased held invest-ments, accounts and policies of the death, update insurances especially in respect of the deceased property and notify all utility providers.

The government’s useful Tell Us Once service can help with the process, information about this is pro-vided to the person who registers the death.

Depending on the value of the deceased assets it is likely that the executors will need to apply for a grant of probate. This is a document that allows the Executor to take control of the deceased’s assets, pay their debts and begin the process of transferring the estate to those who are due to inherit. Whilst it is possible for the executor to apply for Probate themselves, often lay people prefer to utilise a specialist probate solicitor to assist.

Before you apply for a grant of probate, the executors or solicitors appointed to assist, will gather information on the estate’s value, this information is then detailed on an Inheritance Tax form to HMRC – whether tax is due or not.

There are a few other scenarios when it is advis-able to instruct a solicitor to assist. For example, if the estate value is likely to cross the £325,000 inheritance tax threshold, it is worth hiring a probate specialist. It is also a good idea to seek help if assets are held in complex arrangements such as trusts, if there is no will, or if the will is contested.

This time frame for obtaining the grant of probate depends on a number of factors, including how soon you receive the valuations and balances of the accounts, whether inheritance tax is payable, any mistakes made in forms, and how busy the probate registry office are at that time.

Once probate is granted the executors will begin to call in the funds, sell or transfer property, dis-charge any debts, account to HMRC in respect of any tax payable and then administer the estate according to the will. This is not a quick process, but it is essential it is done correctly.

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