The first step in dealing with a person’s estate is establishing whether the person who has died has made a Will. If they have done so, this should set out how they wish the money, property and possessions that make up their estate to be passed on. The deceased person may have made a Will without informing you or others in their family. If a copy cannot be found in their personal possessions, they may have left a copy with their solicitor or bank for safekeeping. A copy of the Will may otherwise have been left with a dedicated Will storage service, or with the Principal Registry of the Family Division.
The person may also have left further directions in the form of “letters of wishes”. A letter of wishes is usually written in plain English, and is a non-binding set of instructions that should be read along with a Will, setting out how the person would like their estate to be distributed. Letters of wishes will often be used by the deceased person to explain in their own words why they have made certain decisions regarding the sharing of their estate, for example why certain people have not been made beneficiaries or why unexpected beneficiaries have been included.
If a person dies leaving a Will, this will identify the person who is appointed to deal with the administration of the estate, known as the executor. The executor will need to apply for a grant of probate from the probate registry. This is an official document that is required by organisations, such as banks and insurance companies, to enable the executor to access the deceased person's assets. The executor, or a solicitor acting on their behalf, must complete a probate application form, which provides information about the person who has died. Other information will need to be given, including the completion of an inheritance tax form providing details about how much the person's estate is worth and how much inheritance tax needs to be paid. This information needs to be accurate as, if the figures provided are wrong, the estate may have to pay a penalty. The application must then be sent to the probate registry, accompanied by a number of documents, including: the official copy of the death certificate, the original Will and any documents showing changes that have been made to the Will since it was drafted (codicils).
If a person dies without leaving a Will this is referred to as dying “intestate”. The estate will be distributed according to the rules of intestacy, meaning only certain people have the right to inherit the estate. This is normally restricted to married or civil partners of the person who has died and certain other close relatives. The rules set out who can be the administrator of an estate, and this person will then be able to apply to the probate registry for letters of administration.
Wilford Smith's Estate Planning Team offers a comprehensive service in all areas of estate planning. For those appointed as executor or administrator of an estate, we provide clear, practical and easy to understand legal advice to help you carry out your obligations effectively. Our Estate Planning Team works with legal experts in other areas, such as property, to assist in the administering of estates. We have a wealth of experience managing estates of all sizes, including high value estates and those that have assets located abroad. Contact us for legal advice tailored to your needs.
Our Estate Planning Solicitors are based in Sheffield and advise clients throughout England and Wales. Contact us today on 0808 164 1349 to find out how we can help.
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