The death of a loved one is a difficult time. Many things need to be taken care of, both practically and emotionally, and for those who have the added responsibility of having to manage the deceased’s affairs while also dealing with their grief, it can often feel overwhelming.
In this blog, our specialist Wills and Probate team consider what is involved in the probate process and how an experienced solicitor can help.
What is probate?
Probate is a part of the estate administration process. It is the legal right to deal with the administration of a deceased person’s property, money, and possessions (their estate).
What is a grant of probate?
A grant of probate is the legal document required in England and Wales by the executors of a Will that gives the authority to administer the deceased’s estate.
Obtaining a grant of probate is the first step in the estate administration process and is often required by financial institutions to access bank accounts, sell assets, and settle the debts of the person who has died.
An executor named in the deceased’s Will is responsible for applying for a grant of probate.
If there is no Will, the process of applying for probate is broadly the same, but the terminology is different.
In this case, the person responsible for dealing with the affairs of the deceased is known as an administrator, and rather than applying for a grant of probate, they will need to apply for letters of administration.
The role and responsibilities of an administrator are the same as an executor’s. Collectively, executors and administrators are known as ‘personal representatives (PRs)’.
How can a solicitor help with probate?
The probate process can be demanding and, without professional guidance, can be hard to navigate.
Enlisting the assistance of a legal professional with experience in estate administration can help. At Bookers & Bolton, our experienced probate and estates team have the knowledge and expertise to provide practical support and guidance on all probate matters.
A specialist probate solicitor can help avoid common mistakes associated with the administration of estates and can assist with the probate process in many ways. These include:
- Familiarity with the process.
An experienced probate solicitor will have completed the probate process for numerous clients and worked on various estates of different sizes and complexity.
Having an experienced legal professional to guide you through what is involved and ensure probate is handled correctly can prove invaluable in ensuring the process runs smoothly.
- Interpreting a Will.
Wills often contain phrases and legal jargon that can be open to misinterpretation by those unfamiliar with the specific terminology.
A solicitor with experience in Wills and probate matters can assist with interpreting a Will and clarify any ambiguities that come to light as the process unfolds. This might be, for example, to do with the inclusion of codicils (amendments to the Will), unclear instructions, or other unforeseen circumstances, such as the death of a beneficiary.
- Knowing when to distribute assets.
Executors often come under pressure from beneficiaries to distribute the assets of an estate as quickly as possible. However, giving out money and other items too early can cause serious repercussions further down the line.
If unexpected liabilities are unearthed subsequently, and there is not enough money left in the estate to cover these costs, a PR would be personally liable.
An executor is entitled to appoint a solicitor to help them, with the costs paid for by the estate, which can help limit liability.
- Ensuring all assets and liabilities are located.
Identifying and collecting all assets and liabilities of a deceased person’s estate can be difficult. Many people like to keep their debts hidden, and it can be hard to know when you have a complete and accurate picture of the deceased’s estate.
However, undertaking a full financial asset search is crucial for submitting accurate figures to HMRC and protecting executors against future claims from creditors and beneficiaries.
A solicitor who has experience in probate claims will be able to ensure all the deceased’s assets and liabilities are located.
- Record keeping.
Solicitors will ensure that executors can demonstrate their legal duty of producing evidence of all financial transactions made to and from the estate by keeping a thorough, comprehensive, and detailed record. This includes producing written confirmation that beneficiaries received their share of the estate, receipts showing debts paid, and any records of expenses from dealing with the estate.
- Locating beneficiaries.
An executor is legally required to take ‘all reasonable steps’ to track down beneficiaries of a Will. Otherwise, they may be personally liable for any losses suffered.
However, this can be easier said than done. For example, some Wills leave gifts to groups of people rather than named individuals, such as ‘my grandchildren’.
A solicitor specialising in Wills and Probate work can advise what counts as ‘all reasonable steps’ and assist in your search.
- Accurate valuations.
Outdated or inaccurate valuations of the various assets that form an estate can not only lead to beneficiaries missing out, but can also have implications for the amount of inheritance tax that is paid to HMRC.
Specialist advice is vital to ensure estates are valued accurately and reduce the likelihood of mistakes.
Probate Solicitors Alton
At Bookers & Bolton, we understand that the death of a loved one is an upsetting time.
Our specialist legal team are equipped to handle every type of estate administration matter for estates of all sizes and is on hand to relieve some of the pressure by providing support to executors or administrators.
We can also offer specialist guidance if a loved one has died without a Will (intestate).
Our experienced private client lawyers provide advice on all areas of probate and estate administration and can help you with all stages of the process, including:
- Identifying the legally appointed executors or administrators and beneficiaries.
- Identifying the type of probate application you will require.
- Obtaining the relevant documents required to make the application.
- Completing the Probate Application and the relevant HMRC forms.
- Drafting a legal oath for you to swear.
- Making the application to the Probate Court on your behalf.
- Obtaining the Probate and securely sending two copies to you.
- Collecting and distributing all assets in the estate.
- Calculating income tax and capital gains tax, and corresponding with HMRC.