Probate Frequently Asked Questions | Irwin Mitchell

Probate & Estate Administration FAQs

Dealing with a loved one's estate can be difficult, especially when you're already dealing with grief. It's understandable that you'll have questions about what to do and where to turn, so we've used our experience to answer some of the common estate administration and probate questions that we hear from clients.

What Should I Do If My Loved One Has Died?

The days after a loved one has died can be the most difficult, because as well as dealing with your feelings you will also have to break the news to other friends and relatives, register the death and organise the funeral. 

Once those tasks have been dealt with, it is important you take care of some other practical matters.  For example, if your loved one’s house is now empty, make sure that it is safe and insured.  As hard as it might be to do, you should also take any valuable household contents out of the house and put them into storage to keep them safe.

Then, the task of dealing with your loved one’s finances, property and belongings must begin.  Everything that they own is called their ‘estate’.   Their estate is what will eventually pay off any debts (including the funeral costs, outstanding bills and loans and any legal fees needed to wind up the estate), but first you will need authority to deal with the estate itself. This includes closing their bank accounts or paying bills. That authority comes in the form of a document that is issued to you by the Probate Registry when you apply, and it is either called a Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration.

Applying for a Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration can be confusing (especially if there is any inheritance tax to be paid by the estate) but our probate team can help you with it, as well as with valuing, selling or dividing the estate between the people who are due to receive it.

What Is Probate?

A Grant of Representation is the name given to the legal document that gives you the authority to deal with a loved one’s estate after they have died. It is more usually known as either:

  • A Grant of Probate (if the person who has died had a Will) or
  • Letters of Administration (if the deceased person died without a Will, which is known as “intestacy”)

If your loved one made a Will and named you as their Executor (the person in charge of it), then you will need to apply for a Grant of Probate, which will confirm your authority to handle their estate.

If your loved one did not leave a Will, you may be able to get authority to deal with their estate by applying for a Grant of Letters of Administration. If your application is successful you will be named as the estate’s ‘Administrator’.

Without the necessary authority, you will not be able to deal with your loved one’s estate.  You will not have the authority to write to anyone to work out the value of the estate. You will not be able to sell anything or use the money in the estate to pay off any of your loved one’s bills.  You will not be allowed to distribute any of your loved one’s belongings or money to any family members or friends, even if you know that that is what your loved one would have wanted.

What Is Estate Administration?

This is the term used to cover everything you would need to do to deal with your loved one’s estate. As well as getting the Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration, it also involves writing to every person or company who is connected with your loved one’s finances (such as banks or companies in which your loved one held shares) to tell them that your loved one has died and to ask for a final figure for what your loved one owned or owed.

It also involves valuing any assets such as a home or jewellery. 

The estate’s money or assets are used to pay off any bills or loans that are left (such as any bills, taxes including inheritance tax, funeral costs and the costs of dealing with the estate administration). 

What is left then has to be given to anyone named in the Will as a beneficiary (someone who will inherit).  If there was no Will, then the estate gets paid according to the rules that say who inherits in these circumstances (known as the Rules of Intestacy). 

It also involves finalising the tax affairs of the person who has died.

Do I Need To Obtain Probate?

If your loved one had more than £5,000 in cash or assets such as belongings or property then you will need to obtain either a Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration.

Most banks and other financial institutions will need to see proof that you are allowed to deal with your loved one’s estate, so you will need to show them the death certificate and your Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration.  If you need to sell your loved one’s home, you cannot do so without a Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration. 

How Do I Apply For A Grant Of Probate Or Letters Of Administration?

There are two choices:

You can apply yourself to the local Probate Registry, who will send you the forms you need to fill in (including forms about Inheritance Tax).  You then may have to go to the Probate Registry to be interviewed about your application.

You can apply through a solicitor.  If you ask us to apply for you, we will ask you to provide us with information about your loved one’s estate and then prepare an official document called an Oath for you to swear.  We will then apply to the Probate Registry for you and you won’t need to go for an interview. 

Why Should I Use A Solicitor To Help Me To Get Probate Or Deal With Estate Administration?

Our clients ask us for help for a number of different reasons including:

  • They are too busy to get a Grant of Probate/Letters of Administration or deal with the whole estate
  • They might find it too stressful or difficult if they have never done it before
  • They prefer just to hand the task over to someone else to deal with it for them
  • They find it easier to know that their loved one’s estate is being handled by professionals who will make sure that everything is handled properly and in accordance with the law
  • Involving a solicitor reduces tension and disagreements over who gets what
  • They do not have to go for an interview at the Probate Registry, which can save a lot of time and money
  • They are reassured that the estate is dealt with correctly and that they are not personally liable if things go wrong

We make around 2,000 applications per year to the Probate Registry, so we know what we are doing and can do our job very quickly and efficiently, meaning that we can keep your costs down.

We can provide different levels of help, depending on your needs. Some clients prefer us to have full responsibility for the estate administration.  Others can manage some tasks on their own but want help or advice for more complicated aspects of the estate.  Some people are confident and content to deal with all of the estate administration on their own.

How much help you want is up to you. We know that you are likely to be very vulnerable at this time and so we take great care to explain all of your options as clearly as possible.

If any legal problems arise during the course of the Estate Administration (for example, an argument about whether or not your loved one owed or was owed money) then our in-house team of specialist solicitors can help.

Do I Need To Use The Same Solicitor Who Wrote The Will?

No, as long as you are the Executor or Administrator you can choose any solicitor you like.  

What Happens If There Is No Will?

If there is no Will, you need to apply to the Probate Registry for a Grant of Letters of Administration.  Not everyone can apply for Letters of Administration, so the first step is to work out whether you are allowed to apply or whether there is anybody else who should apply instead.

If you are allowed to apply and there is nobody more entitled to apply then you will need to fill in forms and send them to the Probate Registry. You will then need to go for an interview to talk about your application in person.  If you are using a solicitor, you will not need an interview and your solicitor would fill in the forms for you.

We can give you full advice about whether you are allowed to apply for Letters of Administration for your loved one’s estate and who will receive the estate if there is no Will.

For more details, click here to download our flowchart 'What Happens If You Die Without Making A Will'.

What Happens If I Can't Find The Will?

If you believe that there is a Will but cannot find it, you should contact local solicitors or banks where your loved one had accounts to ask if they have the Will or a copy.

If you have a copy of the Will (but not the original), it might still be possible to apply for a Grant of Probate, but the rules around this are complex.  We have the experience and knowledge to help guide you through dealing with an estate when the Will cannot be found.  

What Fees Are Involved?

We offer three levels of service; which one you choose will depend on how much work you want us to do and how much you feel you can do on your own.  The fees for our work will depend on the level of service you choose and range from fixed fee to a percentage of the value of the estate

We will not charge any fees until we have talked with you about what level of service you need and want and told you how much our fees are likely to be. 

As Executor or Administrator you will not have to pay our fees out of your own money, instead they will be paid by the estate.  When your loved one’s estate has been collected, their money and assets are used to pay:

  • Any tax due
  • Any bills owed or loans outstanding
  • The costs of their funeral
  • Any other estate administration costs (including our fees)
What Is The Role Of An Executor Of A Will?

As Executor you are responsible for taking charge of all of your loved one’s property, money and belongings. You will be held personally and financially responsible if the estate suffers any loss.

Acting as an Executor can be difficult but our expert team can guide you through the process. You will have a range of tasks to complete, including finding out what their assets are and where they are kept.  You also have to write to all the utility companies, banks and building societies and so on to ask for final figures for what your loved one owed. 

Then you will have to use the estate’s assets to pay off any debts, taxes, funeral costs and other estate administration costs.  Finally, you will have to make sure that the people who inherit items receive the right amount or money or the right assets.

If the estate is complex or you’re not sure of your responsibilities, you should take legal advice. We can help you with as many or as few of your responsibilities as you choose. Call us today for an initial discussion to help you to decide whether you would like us to help you. 

I Am Named As Executor And I Don't Want To Act, What Should I Do?

If being an Executor for your loved one’s estate is too difficult, because you are too emotional or you find the idea of all the responsibility too much, you can ‘renounce’ (give up) your role. 

You can only renounce your role as Executor if you have not “intermeddled” in the estate administration.  That means that if you have started to act as Executor, you must keep going. We can help you to renounce your role as Executor if you contact us early enough. Otherwise we can help you by taking on some or all of your responsibilities if you ask us to do so. 

Call us today for a no-obligation initial discussion about your options with no fees to pay.

What Should I Do If There Is An Argument Over The Will Or Estate?

Sadly arguments over Wills or about who should deal with the estate after the death of a loved one are quite common. Emotions are often unsteady and people can say very upsetting things when they are grieving.

Call us for advice if you or someone else is questioning:

  • The contents of the Will
  • Whether the Will is valid
  • Who should administer the estate
  • How the estate should be administered

Our team of specialist solicitors have a lot of experience in helping clients in these situations and know the sorts of issues that you might face.  We can also help if you are not the Executor or named as a beneficiary in the Will and want to challenge the Will.

Does The Estate Need To Pay Inheritance Tax?

If the estate is valued at more than the nil rate band then the estate will usually have to pay Inheritance tax.  However, there can be some exceptions to this and some reliefs or exemptions might be available that mean that Inheritance Tax does not have to be paid. For example, if a person leaves their whole estate to their spouse, no Inheritance Tax is payable even if the estate is above the nil rate band. Contact us to find out whether Inheritance Tax will be payable in your case.

What Other Institutions Do I Need To Deal With?

If you are an Executor or Administrator and wish to handle the Estate Administration, you will need to deal with a number of organisations, companies and professional bodies. Depending on the size and complexity of your loved one’s estate, this could include HM Revenue & Customs, the Department for Work and Pensions, the council, utility companies, estate agents and stockbrokers.

How Long Does Probate And Estate Administration Typically Take?

We can usually get a Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration for you within eight weeks. Completing the application on your own usually takes longer because you need to arrange a time for an interview at the Probate Registry and that will depend on how busy the Registry is.

Once the Probate Registry has granted the Probate or Letters of Administration, we (or you) can start to get together all of the estate’s assets and start to pay off any debts or remaining tax due.  We can also start to make interim payments (payments made in the meantime) to the beneficiaries of the Will whilst the rest of the estate is sold or valued. 

The whole process of dealing with an estate can take time, especially if Inheritance Tax is due because there is a long procedure to follow to make sure this is paid properly.  If the estate is very complex or there are any arguments about it then this can cause a delay.

Usually, though, estate administration takes between nine and twelve months.  If you ask us to help you with the administration of the estate then we will do everything we can to make the whole process as quick and as stress-free as possible.

If we haven’t been able to answer your question and you still want more information or advice, call us today.

0333 0100 068

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