The fact that Higgins Miller specialises in family law means that we’re used to dealing with people going through highly emotional and stressful phases of their life. Whether that means handling a divorce, an adoption or a case of domestic violence, we know that our clients need the perfect blend of expert practical advice and calm emotional support and that’s what we set out to provide each and every time. This is particularly true when we act as wills and probate solicitors. Losing a loved one is the most stressful and upsetting experiences a person can go through and having to deal with technical legal details at the same time – in addition to the standard tasks of registering a death and arranging a funeral – can be all but overwhelming. The good news is that we use our experience as wills and probate solicitors to ensure that everything runs as smoothly as possible.
Our experience as wills and probate solicitors means that we can explain every part of the process in the kind of clear, accessible language that we know our clients appreciate. The issue of what to do with the estate of a person after they die can become extremely complex, particularly if they haven’t left a will. Fortunately, more and more people are starting to realise this and to draw up a will specifying how they wish their estate to be passed on. Even with the help of a will, however, the process can become complicated, particularly if issues of extended families, business concerns or Inheritance Tax come to the fore and that’s why the help and advice of our wills and probate solicitors can play a huge part in making the loss of a loved one slightly less stressful.
The phrase ‘probate’ is the name given to the legal right to pull together the assets of a deceased person, value them and pass them on in line with what was requested in the will. In most cases where a will has been written the ‘executor’ – the title for the person asked to handle probate – will be named in that will. If not, then it will generally be the closest living relative to the deceased. To begin the process, the person acting as executor will have to request a Grant of Representation, which is a document which financial institutions such as banks and building societies will need to see before allowing access to any money which has been left behind in accounts. There are exceptions to this rule, such as estates which are being passed directly on to a spouse or civil partner and those which don’t include land, shares and property and have a value of less than £5,000.
Financial assets of this kind are only one part of an estate, however as wills and probate solicitors we will advise on bringing together the remaining assets of the deceased. These might include pensions, life insurance policies, property, investments and personal belongings such as motor vehicles, antiques or works of art. Each individual item will have to be valued at the time of death and this often means accessing the services of independent experts. The debts owed by the deceased will also have to be calculated, including items such as loans, mortgages, credit card debts and personal debts, as well as any funeral costs. Once the debt has been subtracted from the assets, any amount left will represent the official value of the estate.
The issue of Inheritance Tax is one of the most complex parts of the process and an area in which our expert wills and probate solicitors will be able to provide maximum assistance. At the time of writing, an estate which has been left to a spouse, civil partner or qualifying charity, or which is worth less than £325,000, doesn’t have to pay any Inheritance Tax. Since April 2010 it has also been possible to raise this allowance, effectively, to £650,000, by transferring any unused allowance from a late civil partner or spouse of the deceased.
If Inheritance Tax is due to be paid then the executor will have to fill in a long and complex IHT400 form, which asks for details of the kind of debts and assets mentioned above. Even if this isn’t the case, the shorter Return of Information form will still have to be sent to HMRC.
Not until the correct forms have been completed and the information given to the HMRC and Probate Registry will the Executor be able to pay any Inheritance Tax asked for and attend a probate venue to swear an oath and receive the grant of representation enabling them to access the assets, pay off any debts and distribute the estate in the manner set out in the will.
This is a fairly brief account of the process, but still underlines why the help of wills and probate solicitors is so important. Dealing with complex forms, answering questions and calculating figures at a time of bereavement can be extremely difficult, and any mistakes you make could greatly slow down the process, or even result in not all of the wishes of the deceased being carried out in full.
If you’d like some advice on hiring wills and probate solicitors, or simply want to discuss the process in general, 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. An initial 20 minute appraisal is provided free of charge, we also offer a first appointment for a fixed fee, so you don’t have to worry about how much our advice is going to cost. If you want to explore our wider charging system then please take a look here.