Legal Eagle – Probate: how legal support can save time and money for executors

You are currently viewing Legal Eagle – Probate: how legal support can save time and money for executors

Donata Crossfield, RG Law Wills and Probate Director

Quite simply, probate is the administrative process to deal with a deceased person’s estate after they have died. The first stage is registering the death, organising the funeral and collating information from pension, investment and insurance companies, banks, and estate agents and valuers.

Estates with more than £5,000, should technically have an official Grant of Probate. This gives formal authority for the executor to collect the funds. If there is no Will, the rules of intestacy will determine which next of kin will be entitled to share the estate and who will be authorised to handle it. The official Grant of Representation allows the administration to proceed.

The Grant of Probate gives authority to deal with the assets, such as selling property, making claims for insurance policies, closing accounts, and paying off debts. If the estate has been receiving any income during the administration, any income tax or capital gains tax is calculated at this point and paid. Only when all the affairs have been finalised, can the assets be distributed to the beneficiaries.

Probate can be very time consuming and highly complex, so it’s important that executors take legal advice. Using legal support can be much more efficient – saving both time and money.

To secure an official Grant of Probate, there are two separate systems. If there is a Will, the probate application can be completed online and will take around 16 weeks to issue the Grant. If there is no Will and multiple beneficiaries, the probate application must be submitted in paper form and it can take up to six months, but this varies depending on complexity and the recourse at the Probate Registry.

It can take several months to collect valuations and information on all assets and liabilities in the deceased’s name. In this digital age, it is becoming more complicated to track everything.

If the estate has liquid assets and no property, the banks may be able to release the funds to the next of kin or executors without the Grant of Probate if the value held in the accounts is low. Each bank /financial organisation has its own rules on how much they would release in such a way.

When the estate consists of property and/or stocks and shares, the executors will need an official Grant of Probate to sell or transfer them. The simplest thing you can do is create a will, to ensure that various tax-free allowances are available to beneficiaries, such as children, a spouse or charity.

It is counter-productive not to seek legal advice straight away, and delaying the probate process may lead to the estate having to pay additional expenses that may not have been anticipated.

Will writers create a Will that is tax-efficient and suitable to an individual’s circumstances. Wills should be reviewed on average every five years as tax rules change, or sooner if financial, or personal circumstances have changed.

It is so important to take advice from your legal or financial advisor, to keep track of your estate and take advantage of all the tax-free allowances that are available to you.