We specialise in the area of family law, and that means we’re used to working with people who are dealing with some of the most stressful periods of their life. The kind of cases that we deal with include events such as divorce, adoption and children disputes, and we handle every client with a combination of up to the minute legal expertise and caring support. This is particularly true when we act as probate solicitors.
Probate is the name of the process which a person has to deal with when someone close to them dies and they have the responsibility of executing the will. As experienced probate solicitors we understand that many people struggle when dealing with probate for two very clear reasons. The first of these is the administrative and clerical complexity of the task itself, while the second is the fact that it has to be completed during a period in which they are trying to process the grief of losing a loved one. Our work as probate solicitors is to deal with the most complex aspects of probate in a clear and transparent manner, speeding up the process of dividing the estate of the deceased at the same time as providing the support which the client can rely on. We understand that for many people dealing with probate will be their first experience of working through legal issues, and that’s why our probate solicitors always explain everything in the clearest possible terms, avoiding complex legal terminology and the kind of jargon which can make legal issues seem so daunting.
Although the existence of a will prevents the deceased from dying intestate and having their estate divided along the lines of strict legal requirements – something which often impacts on any Inheritance Tax (IHT) to be paid – dealing with a written will doesn’t mean that probate won’t be a complex process, especially if there are complications within the estate due to issues such as a second or third marriage or business interests.
The probate solicitors at Higgins Miller will, first of all, explain what probate entails. In simple terms, it is the process of distributing the estate of a deceased person – their money, property and possessions – in a way that meets the conditions set out in their will. This process has to be carried out in a manner that meets any legal obligations and deals with issues such as IHT, and the complications which often arise when liaising with financial institutions such as banks, building societies and insurance companies. The person with the responsibility of handling all of this is known as the executor, and will usually have been named in the will. Working with experienced probate solicitors who have gone through the process many times before will ease the stress of worrying about the ramifications of any possible mistakes, and ensure that the entire probate process is handled as quickly and as smoothly as possible. The fact that probate has to be granted before the estate of the deceased can be divided amongst the beneficiaries named in the will means that any delay can often cause a great deal of emotional and even financial distress. Working with our probate solicitors will reduce the chances of any such delay to the absolute minimum.
The first thing which any executor named in the will has to do in terms of probate is apply for a grant of representation. This is a legal document which is needed in order to access any bank or building society accounts relating to the deceased. It should be noted that if an executor is not named in the will then an administrator will be appointed to handle probate, and in most cases this will be a close relative such as a spouse, civil partner or child. Once the grant of representation has been issued the executor can get on with the task of bringing together and assessing the value of the entire estate. This will include arriving at a valuation of any property which is included in the estate, as well as personal belongings such as art, jewellery and motor vehicles. The fact that the value of items such as these, as well as property, can fluctuate over time means that an independent valuation will have to be carried out as part of the probate process. Our probate solicitors will be able to explain exactly what such a valuation entails, as well as pointing clients in the direction of trusted independent experts to provide it. In addition to property of this kind the executor will also have to assess the amount of money left behind in bank and building society accounts as well as any other financial instruments such as insurance policies and stocks and shares.
The assessment of the value of the estate will also include pulling together outstanding debts owed by the deceased. This could include the funeral costs themselves as well as personal debts, credit card debts, loans and outstanding mortgages. The value of the estate will be the figure reached when any outstanding debts are taken away from the value of the assets.
In addition to creating an official value for the estate, the executor will have to deal with the complex issue of IHT. At the time of writing any estate which is worth less than £325,000 or has been left to a spouse, civil partner or qualifying charity is exempt from IHT. In addition to this, there are rules surrounding the unused IHT allowance from a deceased spouse or civil partner which, in effect, doubles the IHT allowance on an estate, and the residence nil rate band is a further allowance on the main residence which can, in some cases, increase the value of an estate which is exempt from IHT to as much as a million pounds. Clearly, this is a complex issue, with the amount of IHT to be paid depending upon the make-up and value of the estate and how it is being divided. Our probate solicitors will be able to offer advice on whether any IHT is due to be paid, and guide the client through the process of completing the complicated IHT 400 form. Probate can’t be completed until after any IHT due has been paid, and this will sometimes involve the executor having to make the payment themselves and recouping the money from the estate. If this isn’t possible then they may have to borrow the money or release the value of the main asset in the estate by selling the family home. In both cases, our probate solicitors will be able to help with the technical and legal details to ensure that everything happens as quickly as possible while still complying with all relevant regulations.
Once IHT has been paid then probate can be applied for. This will involve sending an application form, a copy of the death certificate, the will and the relevant IHT forms to the nearest Probate Registry. The final stage of the process involves the executor swearing an oath at a Probate Registry or completing a ‘statement of truth’ online. After this, it should be just a few weeks before the grant of representation is issued. Once this has happened, the executor can access the assets, pay any taxes or debts owed and distribute the estate in line with the wishes set out in the will. Our probate solicitors can help with every aspect of this process, including technicalities such as placing Statutory Notices to ask any creditors to come forward and completing accounts that detail the assets in and out of the estate and the balance left for each beneficiary.
If you want to find out more about our probate solicitors or any other aspects of dealing with a will or estate, please call us on 0161 429 7251 or email us at [email protected]. We’ve recently passed our Cyber Essential accreditation, something which demonstrates our forward-thinking attitude and determination to remain ahead of the competition. The first 20-minute appraisal is provided free of charge, and we’ll give you the first appointment for a fixed fee, so you don’t have to worry about how much our advice is going to cost. This initial meeting can ensure that you understand why social services have made contact and can feel able to move forward with confidence. If you want to explore our wider charging system then please take a look here.