Probate and administration of estates
Many people do not realise that, when someone passes away, it is generally necessary to obtain probate in order to administer their estate. This is the responsibility of the executors, although they can seek professional assistance. We undertake work encompassing all aspects of the administration of estates, from obtaining an initial Grant of Probate to finalising an estate once all of the assets have been distributed.
The administration of the estate of a loved one who has died can be time-consuming and emotionally demanding. It can also be a lengthy process, involving correspondence with numerous outside agencies such as insurance companies and income tax authorities. We would always recommend professional assistance in order to ease the worry and stress of dealing with an estate and seek to offer a practical, cost effective solution.
Each estate is very different, but usually you would start by collecting information about a person’s assets and obtaining a Grant of Probate from the Probate Registry. Once you have obtained probate, you can then proceed to collect in the deceased person’s assets and distribute them in accordance with the wishes set out in the Will or the intestacy rules if these apply. Once distributions have been arranged, the Executor should prepare estate accounts to illustrate what has been done with the various assets. Whilst this sounds simple, there are many procedural requirements involved and we would always advise that professional advice is obtained.
Frequently Asked Questions
As can be seen from the FAQs below, the administration of estates is a lengthy, time consuming and complex exercise. We offer a full range of services, from an advice on a discrete issue to acting as executor or on behalf of the executor for the whole process. Our managing director, Elizabeth Parkes, is well versed in all aspects of estate administration.
What is probate?
Once someone has died, the primary objective is to collect all of the assets and settle all of the liabilities of the deceased. Often it can be necessary to liquidate the assets such as property and shares. You may have to write to pension providers, investment houses and banks to identify, and where necessary, collect the assets. Funeral payments will need to be paid along with other liabilities or bills outstanding at the time of death.
What is a grant of probate?
The grant of probate is a court sealed document that proves the death of the person, establishing the will and names the person or persons responsible to deal with the assets and liabilities of the estate and to distribute the surplus to the rightful heirs. The person or people (if more than one) are referred to as the executor(s).
Why apply for probate?
The asset holders of the deceased may require a grant of probate as proof as to who can deal with the assets. Acting without a grant of probate will put the asset holder at risk, which they may be unwilling to take. Therefore, it is sensible to check with the asset holder whether they require a grant of probate, in order that you do not incur any unnecessary cost and time spent applying for the grant.
How much will it cost?
The cost of administering an estate can vary widely as it will depend on the work needed to be done. It is possible to apply for a Grant and administer the estate yourself, in which case the only cost will be the Registry fees and your time.
Alternatively, if you are not confident to obtain the Grant yourself or do not have the time to do so, you can instruct an advocate on your behalf. We offer competitive fixed fees for obtaining a Grant and manageable hourly rates for dealing with all aspects of estate administration.
Registry fees are currently, as at January 2019, as follows:
|Gross value of estate||Fee|
|Does not exceed £10,000||£27|
|Exceeds £10,000 but not £50,000||£160|
|Exceeds £50,000 but not £125,000||£470|
|Exceeds £125,000 but not £250,000||£1,000|
|Exceeds £250,000 but not £500,000||£2,000|
|Exceeds £500,000 but not £1,000,000||£4,000|
In calculating the value of the estate, the Registry will take into account property that is in the sole name of the deceased as well as bank balances, investments and pensions. Obtaining the latest statement with the latest balance from each asset holder should help in working out the value of that particular asset and in turn the whole estate.
If I pay bills as the executor on behalf of the deceased, can I claim back the cost from the estate?
If the costs are reasonably incurred and accounted for then yes you can claim back the costs incurred, provided that there are sufficient funds to do so. It is important to keep all receipts as evidence of payments you make, in case anything is contested further.
Do I need to file a tax return?
Yes, a tax return will need to be filed up to the end of the last tax year in which the deceased died. If the deceased did not keep on top of their tax affairs, you must bring this position up to date. Income received by the estate will also be subject to tax. Tax is a complex area and there are instances where other returns may be due in addition. If there is any uncertainty over the position, we would advise obtaining the input of a tax specialist.
My family are all arguing; what can I do about it?
As an executor it is vital that you are protected. If you do not understand something or cannot resolve something you should take legal advice and we would be happy to assist. You should not leave yourself open for a claim in the future from beneficiaries. There are instances which you may need assistance with, for example, items that are referred to in the will which are not actually the deceased’s belongings, or there are insufficient funds to cover specific amounts of money that are referred to in the will. Even if the family all pull together when the deceased passes it does not always mean that the family will not try and make a claim in the future.
How quickly can an estate be finalised?
A Grant can be applied for as soon as the necessary paperwork is available. As you need to accurately value the estate and obtain the original will, in reality this often takes 4-5 weeks to put together. If there are any issues with the paperwork, this time can be considerably extended.
Once the application is submitted to the Registry, they can take up to 6 weeks to process it and return the Grant. Therefore, it is usually around 10-12 weeks before we can start administering the assets of the deceased.
As we are entirely reliant on third parties to release assets to us, these can also take a number of weeks to collect. The precise timetable depends upon the nature and value of the assets involved.
Once all of the assets are collected, the Executor(s) are obliged to discharge the estate expenses first before distributing any assets to beneficiaries. This means distributions can be delayed if a large bill is expected. An Executor should not delay distribution unreasonably, but it is often prudent to wait at least 6 months to distribute in case anyone is seeking to challenge the will. There is also an obligation to advertise for creditors over a period of at least 3 months.
Even once the assets have been distributed, it is advisable for the Executor(s) to prepare estate accounts to detail the income and expenditure and to ask the beneficiaries to sign these to confirm agreement.
Therefore, one expects the administration of an estate to take a matter of months rather than weeks.