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Probate & estate administration

It’s never easy when you lose someone close to you, and applying for probate and having to deal with a loved one’s affairs can seem too much.

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What is probate?

The term ‘probate’ refers to the process through which someone obtains the right to handle a deceased person’s affairs. In most cases, a person who has the right to deal with the estate is known as the ‘executor’.

What is estate administration?

In simple terms, estate administration is the process of settling the personal and financial affairs of a loved one after they die.

Where should I begin?

Your first priority should be to find the Will, if there is one. Many people contact the deceased’s solicitor, bank, local probate registry, or search online for probate records. Should none of these options prove fruitful, you can look through the paperwork at the house of the deceased.

You will also need to estimate the value of the estate - that is, the money, property and possessions of the person who has died.

The Will should name the executor(s) of the Will.  The need to apply for a ‘grant of probate’ to collect the assets of the deceased, pay debts, and perform all other parts of the administration process.

Being granted probate is not always necessary and it can become unclear as various financial institutions, such as banks, can have their own rules.

Currently, individuals pay £215 probate fees. Estates valued at under £5,000 are exempt from the charge.

It's also worth noting that the government has proposed changes that will increase probate fees on larger estates, if introduced in 2019.

What happens if there is no Will?

If someone you care about dies without leaving a Will, you will need to apply to administer their estate, and must share it out according to the rules of intestacy. In most cases, only the spouse/civil partner and close relations can inherit under these rules.

If someone makes a Will that is legally invalid, the rules of intestacy again determine how to share out the estate, rather than the terms of the Will.

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How do I apply for probate?

If you find that you need probate after the estate has been valued, you need to complete a probate application form PA1 and an Inheritance Tax form. You must then send the forms to the Probate Registry in England and HMRC.

To gain the grant of probate, you must attend a probate registry or solicitor’s office in person and swear an oath. If no other steps are needed, you will then receive the grant of probate (also known as the ‘grant of representation’) by post.

At this point, you must pay any debts the estate owes, before distributing what is left according to the terms of the Will. As previously stated, if there is no Will, then the remaining funds will be shared according to the rules of intestacy.

Please note that to gain access to the finances of the deceased, you must send the grant of probate to the relevant banks, estate agents, insurance and utility companies.

What is involved in the estate administration process?

The first step involves taking an inventory of the estate. Once established, the estate must use these funds to pay any bills, including funeral costs, taxes and other debts.

The second step involves notifying banks, HMRC and other institutions of the death, and cancelling any credit or debit cards.

Thirdly, income tax returns must also be filed before assets are shared to the beneficiaries named in the Will.

I want to organise probate and estate administration, do I need a solicitor?

In most cases, it would be wise to get professional probate and estate planning advice, especially if you think the Will might be contested, the estate is complicated, or Inheritance Tax might be payable.

While it is possible to do it all yourself, this can be daunting and difficult – not to mention time-consuming. The expert probate solicitors at First4Lawyers can provide guidance – whether you need help locating a Will, applying for probate, or administering the estate, get in touch for a chat with one of our advisors.

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