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Posted 20 November 2017
by Gráinne Staunton

A Quick Guide to Probate

couple talking about wills and probates.

Dealing with the death of a loved one is hard enough. However, there are still practical considerations to deal with, including making sure that the last wishes of the deceased are taken care of. If a person has written a Will then it will be up to the executor to make sure those wishes are carried out according to the specifications of the Will (as long as it is correctly completed in accordance with the law).

To do this, an executor will need to obtain a Grant of Probate. This will let them deal with the affairs of the deceased, including accessing bank accounts, distributing property according to the Will, and generally sorting out all the details. It is a court order and confirms that the executor has the right and the authority to carry out the last wishes of the deceased. Up to four people can apply for a Grant of Probate, but if there is the likelihood of a dispute then the registrar will step in.

How to apply for a Grant of Probate

To get the ball rolling, you will need to register the appropriate documentation with the Probate Registry. This can either be done by the executor, or by a legal representative who has a good understanding of the process. You will need to provide:

  • The original and signed Will (with any amendments or codicils)
  • An oath sworn by the executor
  • An Inheritance Tax Account, signed by the executor(s) and if applicable, the receipt for payment of any Inheritance Tax

How long does probate take?

This is the legal equivalent to ‘how long is a piece of string?’ Probate can take weeks, or decades, depending on a wide range of factors. If a person dies without leaving a Will (intestate) then the wrangling between different parties could go on for years. The larger the estate, the more complex the situation, which is why it is so important to ensure you have an up-to-date and accurate Will.

Do I have to be a legal expert to be an executor?

The simple answer is no, but it is essential to have access to good quality legal advice as the probate system can get very complicated. It is also acceptable for beneficiaries of a Will to act as executor, but again it’s important to make sure that essential legal advice is close by just in case of any challenges or issues.

Full Estate Administration

It can be easier to hand everything over to an expert in probate services. The best way is to use a Full Estate Administration service – that will take care of everything from registering the death, preparing all the legal paperwork (including dealing with HMRC, banks and financial institutions) to finalising the taxes and distributing the estate according to the Will.

Grant Only Administration

A Grant Only service means that you work with an administrator, providing them with all the information they need, including details on assets and debts. They will then sort out all the paperwork for you, including any Inland Revenue forms, and then hand everything back to you. It is then up to you to register with banks, close accounts and pay off any liabilities, etc.

Bear in mind that if you choose a Grant Only option then the buck stops with you. Your figures must be right, and all administration must be dealt with correctly, especially any final tax issues and debt payments.

Working with a solicitor

Across the country, there are thousands of solicitors who specialise in probate law. Look for solicitors who are members of the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners.

How much will all this cost?

If probate goes through quickly, then you can keep the costs down. But if things become complex, a person has died intestate, or you need legal support in the instance of a challenge to the Will, then the costs can mount up. The costs are usually paid for by the estate, which means if things drag on for years then the final amount available to distribute among beneficiaries can be greatly reduced.

For advice on probates, please contact our Wills and Probate solicitors for more information.

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About the author

Gráinne Staunton

Partner and Solicitor

Partner and solicitor who specialises in the administration of complex estates, Wills and estate planning for wealth preservation and asset protection