What to do when someone dies – A guide to probate

September 3, 2013
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When a loved one dies, someone has to sort out his or her property, possessions, money and debts. At this difficult time, an experienced probate specialist can help guide the personal representatives through their responsibilities, quickly and efficiently. Ann Farnill, a solicitor at Tallents in Southwell explains more about the process.

Ann says:

There are many confusing legal terms to rapidly learn and understand, such as: Executor, Administrator, Intestate, Grant of Probate, Grant of Letters of Administration, etc. and until someone dies, the general public will not have experience of this.

As a result, it’s not possible to become familiar with this complicated process until the worst has happened.

However, a probate specialist deals with this area of the law every day and uses their experience to avoid potential pitfalls and negotiate the process as quickly as possible.

When a person dies, their estate, comprising: property, possessions, money and debts, is left in limbo. There are different processes to follow, depending on whether there is a Will, the size of the estate and whether inheritance tax (IHT) is due.

Tasks will include obtaining information about the assets and liabilities of the estate, arranging valuations of property, applying for a Grant if necessary and possibly dealing with the tax man, collecting in the assets, paying all the debts and distributing the balance to the beneficiaries entitled.

Grant of Probate

If there is a Will, then the deceased will have specified how their estate is to be distributed and named ‘Executors’ to manage this for them. The Executors will apply to the Court for a ‘Grant of Probate’, which will allow them to access the deceased’s bank accounts, sort out finances and collect in and share out the estate, according to the deceased’s Will.

Says Ann:

The Executor, or Executors take responsibility for correctly administering the estate, which depending on how complicated the estate is, could take several months. This can be a very testing time and it’s not unusual for family arguments to break out. A probate specialist can advise on any issues.

Grant of Letters of Administration

When someone dies without leaving a valid Will they die intestate and the laws of intestacy take effect. In this case the relatives will need to apply for a ‘Grant of Letters of Administration’. This document will confirm that they are ‘Administrators’ of the estate and authorised to access the deceased’s bank accounts, sort out finances and collect in and share out the estate according to the laws of intestacy.

Ann comments:

Dying without making a Will leaves a complicated mess for grieving relatives to try and sort out. Without specifying your last wishes in a Will, the law sets out how your estate is to be distributed. This may mean that unmarried partners will receive nothing, but estranged blood relatives may inherit significant amounts.

Value of the Estate

Whether or not there is a Will the size of the estate can complicate the process. In certain circumstances, a probate specialist should be consulted to ensure the estate is administered correctly, especially:

• If the estate is over the IHT threshold of £325,000 and is not exempt from the tax

• Where there is no Will the law sets out how the estate is to be divided between surviving relatives

• Where dependents have been left out of a Will and may have a claim

If the deceased has left a small estate or owned everything jointly with someone else who will automatically inherit, then a Grant is not normally needed.

Says Ann:

Each estate will need to be handled individually and will be dependent on different circumstances, so experience in handling probate could be invaluable, helping clients save both time and money.

Ann finishes:

Due to the inherent complexities involved, it makes sense for most people to speak to a solicitor and employ a probate specialist to ensure that the deceased’s estate is administered properly. Our Probate team has many years’ experience in effectively handling all aspects of estate administration and can answer any queries a client may have.

administrator dying intestate dying without a will executor grant of letters of administration grant of probate IHT inheritance tax intestate probate what to do when someone dies
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