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What is probate?

When someone dies, arrangements must be put in place to deal with their affairs. This process is referred to as ‘administering the estate’ and involves collecting monies that are due to the estate, paying any outstanding debts owed and distributing the rest of the estate in the manner set out in the Will. When talking about the process of administering an estate, the term ‘probate’ is often used to describe this. However, a probate is also an official document that is issued by a section of the court, called the probate registry, to demonstrate that the Will left by that person is valid.

Our Wills and Probate Solicitors will provide you with a high-level, professional service tailored to your needs. Contact our specialist Estate Planning Team today on 01709 828 044 

How is an estate administered if the person who has died left a Will?

If a person dies leaving a Will there will be a person appointed to deal with administering the estate – this person is known as an executor. The executor of the Will has a number of responsibilities, including the distribution of the estate assets. To be able to do this, the executor will need to apply for a grant of probate from the probate registry. A grant of probate is an official document that is required by organisations such as banks and insurance companies to enable the executor to have access to the assets of the person who has died.

There are a number of steps to be completed before the probate registry will issue a grant of probate. The executor, or a solicitor acting on their behalf, must complete a probate application form. This form provides information about the person who has died, including details about their marital status, surviving relatives and their Will, as well as information about who will act as their executor.

The executor will need to complete an inheritance tax form providing details about how much the person’s estate is worth and, depending on its value, 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.

Finally, the executor will need to swear an oath promising that the information they have provided is truthful. Once these steps have been completed the probate registry will issue the grant.

Contact our specialist Wills and Estate Planning Team today on 01709 828 044 to find out how we can help.

How is an estate administered if the person who has died did not leave a Will?

If a person dies without leaving a Will this is referred to as dying ‘intestate’. When this happens, the person with responsibility for distributing the estate is known as the ‘administrator’ and the estate will be distributed according to the rules of intestacy. Under these rules, 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. These are official documents that allow the administrator to access the person's assets and distribute the estate and are applied for in the same way as an executor would apply for a grant of probate.

Do I need a solicitor to administer an estate?

There is no legal requirement that you appoint a solicitor in order to administer an estate. However, the administering of an estate can be a complicated and time-consuming process. While an estate may seem simple at first, investigations can uncover complications that make administering the estate more difficult. To ensure this is done as accurately and quickly as possible it is a good idea to instruct a solicitor to provide guidance in administering an estate or to carry out the administration on your behalf.

Depending on the nature of the estate, it may be particularly advisable to instruct a solicitor to help in the administering of an estate. If the value of the estate is above the inheritance tax threshold, completion of inheritance tax requirements may require the advice of a solicitor with skills and knowledge in estate planning and tax law. The threshold at which inheritance tax is due is £325,000, and there may be further complications if the estate is still earning regular income.

Intestate estates can be more complex to administer, and this will also be the case if there are concerns that the Will is not valid. If a Will deliberately cuts out children or certain family members it can also be more challenging to administer, as these persons may have a legal right to claim from the estate despite the person’s wishes. If the estate includes assets that are not held in the UK, if the person who has died lived abroad, or if initial investigations suggest that the estate may be bankrupt then it is recommended that a solicitor is appointed to help negotiate the administering of the estate.

Contact our Specialist Probate Lawyers, England and Wales

Wilford Smith’s Estate Planning Team based in Sheffield and London offers a comprehensive service in all areas of estate planning. For those appointed as executor or administrator of an estate, we provide straightforward and practical legal advice. As a full-service firm, our Estate Planning Team is able to work with legal experts in other areas, such as our Tax and Property Solicitors, to assist in the administering of estates. With a wide-ranging client base across England and Wales, we are experienced in managing estates of all sizes, including large estates and those that are international in scope, providing a high-level professional service tailored to your needs.

Contact our specialist Wills and Estate Planning Team today on 01709 828 044 to find out how we can help.

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