The need to consult a probate lawyer arises during what is usually the most stressful period in any person’s life, the loss of a loved one. Here at Higgins Miller we specialise in family law, which means that as well as dealing with issues of wills and probate we handle divorce proceedings, children disputes and adoption to name just a few. Our aim in all circumstances such as these is always to deliver clear, easily understood legal advice while at the same time dealing with the stress and emotion of the situation in an empathetic and understanding manner.
This is needed more than ever when a client needs to access the services of a probate lawyer. Following the death of a loved one, the immediate priority will always be dealing with the grief and pain involved, but there’s no hiding from the fact that there are very many practical matters involved, particularly if those left behind want to do their best to ensure that the wishes of the deceased are fully complied with. Even if the deceased left a will behind, stating clearly what their estate consist of and how they wish it to be divided following their death, the services of an experience probate lawyer will still be required. Although the person named in a will as executor of the will is tasked with handling probate – and if nobody has been named then the nearest living relative will usually fill the role – the advice of a seasoned probate lawyer will help to make sure that everything is dealt with as quickly and seamlessly as possible, and that there are no mistakes made which could, for example, result in thousands of pounds worth of unnecessary Inheritance Tax having to be paid.
In layman’s terms, ‘probate’ refers to the process of gathering the assets of the deceased together, detailing their value following the clearing of any debts and passing the estate on. Initially this will mean gaining a Grant of Representation, a legal document allowing the holder to gain access to financial institutions such as bank or building society accounts, although there are some exceptions to this rule, such as those estates which are valued at less than £5,000.
As well as any money left in accounts, the value of the state will consist of assets such as shares, property, pensions, life insurance policies and personal belongings like jewellery, works of art and motor vehicles. Independent valuers may be required to establish the value of every item at the time of death, and the resulting total will then have any debts deducted in order to come up with a final value for the estate. These debts might include personal debts, loans, mortgages, credit card debts and the cost of a funeral. When all of this has been taken into account, the amount left over will determine whether any Inheritance Tax has to be paid.
Currently, the threshold for Inheritance Tax rests at £325,000, although estates left to a spouse, qualifying charity or civil partner are also exempt. The ability to transfer 100% of any unused Inheritance Tax allowance from a late spouse or civil partner means that in many cases the threshold is actually as high as £625,000.
Whether Inheritance Tax has to be paid or not, the executor will have to complete a Return of Information form for HMRC, and if the tax is due then the longer, more complicated IHT400 form is required. The relevant forms have to be filled in and sent to HMRC and the Probate Registry, any Inheritance Tax due has to be paid and the executor must swear an oath in order to receive the grant of representation which will enable them to access any assets, pay off outstanding debts, and distribute the estate as instructed.
Clearly, the advice of an experienced probate lawyer could prove invaluable when dealing with such a complex chain of events, particularly at a time of heightened emotions. Making a mistake during this period could not only delay the process of meeting the wishes of the deceased, it could lead to more Inheritance Tax than is fair being paid, and friends and family missing out on the final gifts which the deceased wished to give to them.
If you think you need the services of a probate lawyer, or would simply like some advice on the practical aspects of dealing with the death of a loved one, please contact us on 0161 429 7251 or email us at [email protected]. Our initial 20 minute appraisal will be provided free of charge and we operate a fixed fee first appointment system. For a detailed account of our wider funding options, see here.