Probate and Administration of Estates

What is Probate?

Probate is the general term used by most people to describe the legal processes used to administer an estate after someone has died. This means someone, usually the Executor(s), has to identify all of the potential beneficiaries, call in all of the assets, pay all of the debts, account to the taxman for any tax due and distribute the estate as dictated by the Will.

Who can apply for Probate?

For someone to be able to deal with an estate they need to gain a “Grant of Representation”. The purpose of the grant is to confirm the validity of any Will or that the deceased died intestate and to provide authority to the personal representatives of the deceased, to deal with the estate. Probate is the most common of the 3 types of grant available, and is given where there is a valid Will and valid executors.

What if there is no Will?

If there is no Will, then a “Grant of Letters of Administration without a Will” can be granted according to the Intestacy Rules. These rules show how an estate will be distributed when there is no Will, and also who will be given precedence to apply to deal with the deceased’s estate.

Is Probate always required?

1. Assets held in joint names

Probate is not normally required to deal with assets held in joint names. For example a property registered in joint names can pass directly from one spouse to another or a bank account held in joint names.

2. Small Estates

If the estate is quite small, generally under £20,000 and there is a Will, you may not need to gain Probate. Most banks and building societies will release funds if you can show proof of ID, a copy of the death certificate and the Will proving you are the beneficiary. However, if there is no Will and there is any doubt as to the beneficiaries, you will need to gain some form of Grant of Representation (Probate).

How to deal with Probate?

Dealing with an estate can be quite a complex process, however there are some common steps and we have listed these below:

  • Register the death at the local probate registry
  • Arrange to pay for the funeral, this can be done via the deceased’s bank account, as they have an obligation to release funds for a funeral on the presentation of an invoice from the funeral directors.
  • Value the deceased’s estate, this will include house valuations, valuations of personal effects, collation and valuation of financial portfolios etc
  • Prepare the correct IHT (inheritance tax) forms and pay any IHT due
  • Apply for the grant of probate by post using the probate application forms or online
  • Register the grant of probate with any relevant institutions
  • Transfer the ownership of any property and close any accounts
  • Complete any required income tax return or capital gains return on behalf of the deceased
  • Pay any debt or liabilities owed by the deceased
  • Collect any money or property owed to the deceased
  • Pay any expenses incurred
  • Prepare final accounts for the estate
  • Distribute the estate in accordance with the will or intestacy rules

How long does it take to gain Probate?

This varies greatly depending on the complexity of the estate and how long it takes to collate all the information you need to fill in the probate and IHT forms. It will then take between 4-10 weeks to gain the Grant of Probate from the Probate Registry and then it could be another 12 weeks before you can attend the registry office to swear the oath. All-in-all it is not a fast process, however, it is possible to expedite it by using a solicitor.

Why use a Solicitor to deal with Probate?

There are many situations when Probate can become complex and confusing and when the advice and experience of a specialist solicitor can be a great help. If the estate is over the Inheritance Tax threshold (presently £325,000), it may be worth at least getting some initial advice from a solicitor.

It generally takes someone approximately 20 hours to deal with the probate of a medium sized estate and this doesn’t include the time it would take for a non-legally trained person to research and fully understand the probate process. This means when an estate is quite large with many different types of assets, debts and several beneficiaries, together with a complex IHT form to fill out, a solicitor’s services can be extremely useful. In addition we have listed a few of the other circumstances when it may be worth your while using a solicitor’s probate services.

  • Someone is thinking about contesting the Will
  • There is no valid Will or it’s being disputed
  • A beneficiary is thinking about making a claim on the estate under the Inheritance Act 1975
  • The deceased owned a business
  • The estate doesn’t have enough assets to pay it debts
  • Beneficiaries are challenging the probate process or require more information about the process and estate than you feel comfortable providing
  • The deceased left money in a trust
  • A beneficiary is under the age of 18
  • The deceased owned a foreign property
  • A deed of variation is required to change the Will after death

How much does it cost to use Routh Clarke to administer an estate?

At Routh Clarke we understand how difficult it is for our clients when they are executors of an estate. Usually executors are spouses, family members or close friends of the deceased and to have to deal with an estate whilst grieving the loss of a loved one can be distressing for some people. We have all been through this process personally as well as professionally and so we believe we understand how to explain and help families through this complex process, using all our compassion as well as professionalism to make it an easier time for those that are grieving a loss.

Estate Administration Costs

Unlike many other solicitors we do not charge a percentage of an estate's value to perform estate administration, as we do not believe this is morally acceptable. We only charge by the amount of time it actually takes to perform the tasks involved. As you can imagine this time can vary dramatically depending on the complexity of the actual estate, such as number of bank accounts, properties and investments etc, plus on the number and type of beneficiaries i.e. charities/individuals etc. Our charges range from £255 per hour (+VAT) for our most senior solicitor to £126 per hour (+VAT) for our junior executives. The administration of a basic estate is likely to cost in the region of £3,000 plus VAT whilst complex estates may be well over £10,000 (+VAT). Once we have been given a background into the estate and its level of assets and debts, we will give the executors an idea of what the total costs will be.

There are some additional charges which we call disbursements as these are costs payable to third parties. These may include the Grant of Representation application fee which is presently £300, bankruptcy-only land charge searches which are £2 for each beneficiary based in the UK, overseas bankruptcy searches will cost in the region of £100 (+VAT). We also suggest statutory notices are placed in the London Gazette and a local newspaper, as this can protect executors from any future unknown creditors or unexpected claims, these presently cost about £250 in total. If the estate is taxable, at least part of the inheritance tax payable will need to be paid before the Grant of Probate is issued. If there are not enough liquid assets in the estate to pay this, we can discuss with you how this tax payment can be funded. The HMRC website has a very useful inheritance tax calculator if you wish to get a rough idea of how much will need to be paid.

Please note if or the Will is contested, due to its validity or perhaps there is a claim made under the Inheritance Act 1975 this can change the level of the costs involved with the administration of the estate and additional costs will more than likely be incurred. We will discuss this with you if it does happen, to try to ensure you understand not only the process but the level of costs this may result in.

Grant of Representation Application Costs

If you just wish for us to apply for the Grant of Representation, once the personal representatives have provided the asset and debt information, our charges are usually in the region of £750 (+VAT), but if the estate is extremely complex with a large number of IHT forms needing to be filled in, this may cost up to £2,000 (+VAT), however in our experience most of the estates we deal with are at the lower end of the charges scale. There will also be an additional charge for the Grant of Probate application fee which is presently £300 and is payable to the Probate registry. If extra copies of the Grant are required, these presently cost £1.50 per copy, we advise to order enough copies for each asset, such as bank accounts and investments. We will pay these costs on your behalf and add it to our final bill. This process normally takes between 6-10 weeks depending on the complexity of the estate and whether Inheritance tax is due.

How long will the Estate Administration process take?

Depending on the complexity of an estate we generally say that it can take between 6 and 12 months to administer an estate, but this does depend on whether property is involved as this can extend this period as it is impossible to say how long it will take for a property to sell. Typically, obtaining the grant of probate takes 8-10 weeks. Once obtained, we would then collect in the assets, which can take between 6-8 weeks. Once the assets have been collected we produce the final estate accounts and distribute the assets according to the Will which can take 4-6 weeks depending on the number of beneficiaries and where they live. We are not able to deal with any transfer or sale of properties as we do not undertake conveyancing work, but we work closely with a local conveyancing firm to undertake this work on behalf of our clients to ensure a smooth administration of the estate.

What are your next steps?

Routh Clarke have a great deal of experience in this area and Nick Routh has not only dealt with the probate process for many clients, but has had to administer the probate of both his parents, who died within a year of each other. They owned a farm, had just changed financial advisors and platforms, and so he personally understands the complications of probate and dealing with HMRC. This means he has a greater depth of understanding and empathy with your situation. Contact Nick now on 01935 823883 to discuss how he can help you with the Probate process.

For help with Probate call us on 01935 823883