Probate is the process of dealing with a person’s money, property, debts and final wishes after they die, also known as ‘administering the estate’.
The Executor’s Duties
If the deceased left a valid Will, there would usually be mention of a chosen executor or executors. Executors are persons appointed to execute the Will, which includes administering the financial affairs, distributing the estate, ensuring last wishes are carried out, pay taxes and any debts due, and keep accurate accounts. However, it is not a legal requirement to accept the role of executor. Where there is no named executor, or there is no Will to be found, a blood relative or close friend can apply to be a personal representative.
It is the executor’s responsibility to gather all the money and assets in the estate, pay debts and distribute any legacies. To do this, the executor must first apply to the Probate Registry for a ‘grant of representation’, and the original Will should be sent with the probate forms. You may need to request this from the Will writer or solicitor who prepared the Will if they are keeping it safe for the deceased. A grant of probate will authorise you to collect money and assets belonging to the deceased from financial institutions and other organisations. A grant may not be needed if the home is in joint ownership with a survivorship clause. In this case, the ownership is then passed onto the surviving spouse or civil partner.
Where a person dies intestate (where there is no valid Will in place), the process is more complicated. A close relative or friend will have to apply to the court to have permission to deal with the estate. A grant of representation is not needed in smaller estates, however (i.e. in estates valued under £5000, or if the deceased owned everything jointly). The administrator will then need to apply for a grant of letters of administration. The existence of a valid Will affects what kind of grant of representation you will need to continue the probate process. If you are the named executor in a valid Will, you will need a grant of probate, and if you are the administrator of an intestate estate, you will require letters of administration. If you are the administrator of a valid Will where the named executor has failed, you will also require letters of administration. The grant of representation allows you to access the deceased’s assets, such as their bank and building society accounts, and stocks and shares.
However, in the event of jointly owned accounts, the bank or building society is often willing to transfer ownership to the surviving civil partner or spouse on presentation of a death certificate. Any sole accounts, you will most likely need the grant of probate and letters of administration which can be requested by contacting your local Probate Registry.
Valuing the Estate
Getting a valuation of the entire estate is crucial for distribution to beneficiaries, inheritance tax purposes, to calculate capital gains tax, and to settle any debts. The personal representative has to ensure all taxes are paid, as they have a personal responsibility for this, and can receive hefty fines if tax debts slip. Another legal duty is keeping clear and accurate accounts of the estate. The bigger the estate, the more burdensome this can be.
The time it takes to obtain a grant of probate or letters of administration will depend on how complex the estate is, for example, if there are complexities such as multiple properties, overseas property, shares, and accounts, it can hold things up quite substantially. On average, probate takes between six to nine months to complete and can take up to eighty working hours. However, with complications, it can sometimes take a few years.
Calculating Inheritance Tax
When you apply for a grant of probate, you will receive both an oath and an inheritance tax form. Excepted estates (those which are not liable for inheritance tax) the reduced IHT205 form is used. An IHT400 form is required for non-excepted estates. Accurate details on assets, liabilities, lifetime gifts and Trust interests will all need to be provided. Any inheritance tax due must be paid six months from the end of the month of death. Where payment is overdue, interest will be charged on the calculated sum.
Contact our Will & Estate Planning Consultants Today
If you want to know more about our probate services, our professional Will & Estate Planning Consultants would be delighted to hear from you. We can arrange a consultation over the phone or in person, which can help us to build an accurate picture of your specific needs and requirements thus allowing us to advise you on every possible detail, and guide you smoothly through the entire estate planning process. Give us a call today on 0345 260 0600 or get in touch via our online contact form.