When someone passes away, there are certain steps that must be taken when dealing with the ‘estate’ they leave behind. This might not necessarily include bricks and mortar property; it can often just consist of bank accounts, personal possessions, stocks and shares.
However, whether or not a property is involved, it may take a while to sort out who gets what, especially if there is no Will or a Will is contested.
What is it and When is Probate Needed?
Probate is the word that many people use to describe the formal authority provided by the court to facilitate the administration of the estate.
If a Will has been drawn up then the person may have specified a particular individual or individuals, known as ‘executors’ to carry out that process. It is advisable to have more than one executor, especially if the estate is particularly large or complex.
Where there is no Will; a situation known as ‘intestacy’; probate is normally granted to the closest next-of-kin, who will be called ‘administrators’.
If you are an executor under a will or administrator on intestacy, you may need to apply for probate. Once probate has been granted, you will be able to proceed with administering the estate, to ensure that close family members and friends achieve the closure they need, as soon as possible.
Who Can be an Executor?
An executor is named in the will, and has usually been notified of their role beforehand. An executor does not have to be a solicitor or legal representative - but can rather be a family member or trusted friend.
If no executor is named in the will or the deceased has not left a will at all, then probate will usually be granted to one of the beneficiaries in the will, or the next-of-kin on intestacy.
What Does an Executor Do?
The Court will issue a document called a Grant of Representation to the Executor or administrator, as part of the probate process. Those individuals will be responsible for matters such as cashing bank accounts, transferring or selling property or shares, paying inheritance tax that may be due on the estate, paying any outstanding debts (such as utilities bills, credit card payments etc) and distributing the estate according to the will or the laws governing intestacy.
What if You Can’t Find a Will?
It is estimated that only about a third of people in the UK have made a Will. So there is more than a 60% chance that the deceased will have died intestate. However, it is important that you double check all paperwork just in case there is a will that hasn’t been discovered yet, either among the deceased’s paperwork, or left with a Solicitor or the bank.
There are also dedicated will storage service provider that may have the will. Alternatively you can check with the Principal Registry of the Family Division by calling 020 794 7022 or write to:
The Principal Registry of the Family Division
Record Keeper's Department
First Avenue House
42-49 High Holborn
You will need to provide the death certificate and identification confirming that you are the Executor. There should also be a certificate of deposit for the Will, but if you cannot find it you will need to write to the Principle Record Keeper in the first instance. At this point it may be advisable to call in the services of an expert.
Applying for Probate
Depending on the type and value of assets in the estate, you may need to obtain a grant of representation. This is often referred to as as a grant of probate, and the type of grant that is issued to you will depend on your circumstances. So:
- If you are named executor in a Will – you will need a grant of probate
- If you are the next-of-kin and there is no will – you will need letters of administration
- If you are the next person entitled in a will where there is no valid appointment of an executor – you will need letters of administration (with will).
- You may not need a grant of representation if the estate is very small, but be prepared to apply for one if a bank or other institution requests it.
You can apply for a grant of probate or letters of administration by contacting the local Probate Registry and completing Probate Application form PA1.
As early as possible you will also need to contact HMRC to discuss any potential income tax outstanding, or inheritance tax that may be due.
How Long Does Probate Take?
On average it takes between nine to twelve months to complete the distribution of the estate through probate, but if the estate is complicated or there are any legal challenges brought by family members or or dependants then it could take much longer. If you are concerned that there may be issues then it is important to bring in the services of a solicitor or professional expert who specialises in probate law.
If you need help with applying for probate, are confused by the probate process or need guidance on any aspect of the role of administrator or executor, talk to Co-op Legal Services experts. We can help with clear, practical advice that can make the process much easier, and less stressful from start to finish.
For free initial advice call our Probate Specialists on 03306069584 or contact us online and we will help you.
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