Probate is the term used for the legal process in dealing with the estate of someone who has died (an estate is everything the deceased person owned, less liabilities such as debts, funeral charges and taxes payable on death). It is the responsibility of the persons named in the Will (ie the Executors). If there is no Will, the person is deemed to have died intestate (ie without a Will) and so it will be the responsibility of the people who have a legal right under the Rules of Intestacy. [Click here for further explanation of dying intestate].
When someone dies what should you do?
At this most difficult time, you may feel overwhelmed and not know where to start. Many people panic and think they have to do everything straight away. There are some things that are really important and should be done as soon as possible, but others can be put off until after the funeral. The things you will need to do immediately include:
• Register the death at the Registrar of Births and Deaths, which should normally be registered by the Registrar within five working days. (If a coroner is involved in the registration process, you can ask the Coroner for an ‘interim certificate’ and this can be used as proof of death. You should obtain a number of copies of the death certificate for the various financial institutions you will need to contact.
• Plan the funeral and check if a pre-paid funeral plan has been arranged by contacting a funeral director. You can book your appointment with the funeral director even if your appointment with the Registrar hasn’t taken place, so long as you have a date and time for registration and can tell the funeral director. Some people worry that they cannot afford to pay for the funeral but there may be sufficient funds in the deceased’s account. Most banks will accept the funeral directors invoice and will pay it directly to the them – even when the deceased’s bank account has been frozen.
• Locate the Will and check if it contains any funeral wishes and contact the Executors if you are not appointed.
• Secure the deceased’s house, valuables and documents, especially if the house is left unoccupied.
• Check if there is insurance cover for the house and contents and notify the insurers;
The remaining duties, whilst important, could probably wait until after the funeral
• Arrange a redirection of post
• Inform the car insurers
• Collect personal documents belonging to the deceased and organise a list of the deceased’s assets and liabilities and check if they made any lifetime gifts of cash or other assets
• Register the death certificate with the various financial institutions
• Arrange to pay the funeral expenses
• Contact the deceased’s utility accounts for household bills, including council tax, gas, electricity and telephone services
The Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration
After the funeral, you will need to turn your attention to the Estate which the person has left behind. You may need to apply for a Grant of Representation (Grant of Probate, if there is a valid Will or Letters of Administration, if there isn’t). It’s generally considered that for small Estates where no property was owned and everything else is worth less than £15,000, Probate won’t be needed. But this isn’t true in every situation. Banks will usually release money up to a certain threshold (limit) without requiring a Grant of Probate, but each financial institution has their own limit that determines whether or not Probate is needed.
Where Probate is needed, the Executors or Administrators (the personal representatives) will need to make an application to the Probate Court. We can assist you in making the application and will be able to complete the necessary tax forms that are required, depending on the value of the estate. We can also advise you on complex estates and the various issues around tax, including Inheritance Tax, income tax and Capital Gains Tax.
How long can Probate take?
It can be a lengthy and complex process, depending on the size of the deceased’s Estate. For simple Estates it can be reasonably quick, but with larger and/or complex Estates, the process can take up to 2 years.
To be able to apply for a Grant of Probate, you will need to put together a schedule of all the Estate’s assets and liabilities to complete form PA1P or PA1A, complete the Inland Revenue Account form, either an IHT400 or an IHT205 and lodge these with within one year of the death.
You will also need to pay any Inheritance Tax due and get a receipt from HMRC.
You will then need to apply for a Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration. This usually takes two to three weeks from the date of lodging the documents with the Probate Registry.
What happens after Probate is granted?
Once the Grant of Representation is obtained the personal representatives need to carry out the following duties:
• Register the grant with the various financial institutions
• Collect in the Estate assets and pay any debts and administration expenses
• Complete tax returns for the income and capital gains for the deceased up to the date of death and for the administration period until the estate is finalised
• Place notices to creditors by putting a statutory advertisement (under the Trustee Act 1925 for England) in The Gazette and a local paper to protect the Executor from being liable for any undisclosed debts and wait for two months and one day before distributing the Estate in case a creditor contacts the Executors
• Check there have been no claims against the Estate during the six months following the issue of the Grant
• Decide whether to cash-in assets or transfer them to beneficiaries, collect in bank account balances, sell or transfer stocks and shares and cash-in policies
• Decide whether to sell the house or transfer it to the beneficiaries
• Prepare accounts to account to the beneficiaries under the Will or those inheriting on intestacy for all the Estate assets, debts and expenses and calculate their entitlements and get their approval to the accounts
• Trace and identify beneficiaries
• Pay legacies usually within one year of death and distribute the remaining Estate and obtain receipts from each beneficiary
• Please contact us if you think you may need help and we will provide you with a no obligation quote.