When a person dies owning assets of more than £5,000, then it is necessary to apply for a Grant of Probate if there is a Will or Letters of Administration if there is no Will. This procedure is known as probate.
If the person dies leaving a Will, the Will usually appoints one or more people as executors. The executor’s role is to administer the estate in accordance with the wishes of the deceased as set out in the Will. In order to do this they must do the following:-
The executors must take great care when carrying out these tasks as they can be held personally liable for any mistakes, for example failure to properly deal with payment of tax due, failure to identify and distribute assets to the beneficiaries, where they do not identify an outstanding liability etc. They may be held responsible even if the mistake was not deliberate.
If there is no Will the deceased is said to have died intestate. In this case someone, usually a close relative, needs to apply to the probate registry for a Grant of Letters of Administration, which is the official document which allows them to administer the estate. As there is no Will stating how the deceased wishes their assets to be distributed, they will need to be distributed in accordance with the rules of intestacy. This can be complicated, particularly where beneficiaries are not easily identified or located.
For very small uncomplicated estates the process can be dealt with in a few months, but in practice most cases take approximately 6-8 months. The process can, however take much longer, sometimes up to several years, where there are complications, for example where there is a missing beneficiary or where a house cannot be sold for one reason or another.
The costs of administering the estate are paid from the money in the estate and will depend on the complexity of the estate and the number of assets involved. The Law Society require that our charges are fair and they can be challenged if considered to be unreasonable.
There are many organisations other than solicitors who offer probate services, but where complicated or unforeseen legal issues arise it is always better to use a solicitor who has the specialist legal knowledge to give you the right advice. Unlike other organisations solicitors are governed by a strict regulatory body, the Law Society, which ensures that we deal with your matter professionally and that the money we receive is properly safeguarded.
The process can be complicated particularly if there are a large number of assets and many organisations to deal with, such as banks, pension companies, HM Revenue and Customs, beneficiaries who are charities or who cannot be found for one reason or another etc. Executors must be certain that they do not make any mistakes which may leave them open to a claim. There are strict timetables which have to be adhered to and the process may be delayed if there are arguments between family members, beneficiaries or personal representatives. In such cases a neutral third party with a full understanding of the legal position may be able to help you resolve any disputes in a timely manner.