When a loved one dies, managing their legal affairs and settling the finer details of their estate can be overwhelming and time consuming. Here, Craig Harman, a probate specialist at Perrys Chartered Accountants, explains everything you need to know about probate.
What is probate?
Probate is the legal right to deal with someone’s property, money and possessions, i.e. their estate, when they die. If a loved one dies, then you may need to apply for a grant of representation to administer the estate. If the person left a Will appointing executors, a ‘grant of probate’ will be issued. In the event there are no executors able to act under the Will or there is no Will in place, ‘letters of administration’ will be issued.
Is probate always needed?
In some circumstances, you may not need probate. For example, jointly owned land, property, shares or money may pass to the surviving owner automatically under the rules or survivorship. In addition, it is normally possible to release small bank balances without the need for a grant of probate.
Who can apply for probate?
If the deceased left a valid Will, the named executors would have the right to apply for probate.
If there is no Will, then the ‘administrator’ will deal with the estate. This is determined by the rules of intestacy but effectively this is the deceased’s closest living relatives in a set priority order, starting with the husband, wife or civil partner. Crucially unmarried partners are not included under the rules of intestacy.
A professional, such as a specialist probate accountant, will be able to help you with organising the application and any other tasks associated with administering the probate process.
If you are an executor but would prefer for a professional to act on your behalf, then you can appoint a probate specialist to assist you with the process.
What happens after I have applied for probate?
You will usually receive a grant of probate or letters of administration within 8 weeks of sending the original documents. You should not make any financial plans or arrange the sale of any property until the grant of probate or letters of administration are received.
What is involved with the probate process?
There is a wide range of responsibilities in the probate process. Tasks that will need to be undertaken include:
- Registering the death and notifying relevant organisations
- Locating the Will and ensuring it is valid
- Coordinating funeral arrangements
- Identifying and tracking down any beneficiaries or potential beneficiaries according to the Will or rules of intestacy
- Obtaining details of the deceased’s assets and liabilities
- Completing and submitting an Inheritance Tax Return. This includes identifying any gifts made by the deceased in the seven years prior to death (or 14 years in some situations)
- Settling any liability due for Inheritance Tax
- Finalisation of the deceased’s personal tax affairs, including the submission of any outstanding self-assessment tax returns
- Dealing with potential disputes
- Calculating any Income Tax and Capital Gains Tax liabilities for the period of administration
- Preparing estate accounts and providing copies to beneficiaries
- Making distributions to beneficiaries
Why use a probate specialist?
Administering probate can be a difficult and lengthy process – this is especially the case when a person dies without a valid Will in place.
During such difficult circumstances, probate can seem overwhelming for many people. Therefore, seeking a professional to assist with the probate process will help to ensure information is processed as quickly and painlessly as possible allowing you to grieve your loved one in peace.