Probate – What you need to know.

Dealing with Probate when you have recently lost a loved one can be emotionally draining as well as time consuming at a time when you are least able to deal with it.  There’s a fair amount of legal jargon associated with it, which can be confusing, and the tax regulations can be daunting too. So, here is a short blog written to outline the basics of Probate – What you need to know.

Our experienced team at Penderlaw are here to help and can deal with the entire process for you if you wish or just obtain the grant for you if you prefer. 

So, starting from the beginning…

What is Probate?
Generically Probate is the legal and financial process to deal with the property, money and possessions of someone who has died.  The process involves establishing whether there is a Will, and then confirming who has authority to administer the Estate of the person who has died. Technically, this is the process where you get permission to deal with the Estate. 

What does Administration of the Estate mean?
Administration of the Estate means finding out what assets the person had, paying tax and any other liabilities and distributing the assets to the beneficiaries as specified in the Will if there was one, or if not, as specified in the law of intestacy.    

What is a Grant of Probate?
A Grant of Probate is a document issued by the Court giving authority to the Executors to distribute the Estate as laid out in the Will.  If there is no Will, a document called A Grant of Letters of Administration is used and works in a similar way, but without a Will, the law of intestacy determines who should receive the assets.

How long does it take to get a Grant of Probate?
The Probate Registry is especially slow at the moment and their answerphone currently says at the time of writing this blog (May 2023) that if it has not been 16 weeks since submission of the application, to ring them back when this period of time has elapsed.  The precise amount of time it takes will depend on the size and complexity of the Estate. Currently, obtaining a Grant of Probate from the Probate Registry is taking between 4-8 months.

When is a Grant of Probate not required?
A Grant of Probate may not be required if the size of the deceased’s Estate is small, the definition of small varies depending on the requirements of each financial institution. Or if they owned everything in their Estate jointly with someone else. In this situation, the ownership would be automatically transferred to the surviving owner(s).

How long does it take to complete the process of Probate itself?
The process of Probate itself again depends on the size of the Estate, the number of beneficiaries and the complexity of it generally. It could be anything between months and years?  We have written a blog called the 8 Stages of Probate which has further information which you may find useful. https://penderlaw.co.uk/the-8-key-stages-of-probate/

What do I need to do first when someone dies?
In the midst of the emotion of losing a loved one the responsibility of what needs to be done administratively can feel overwhelming.  The Government website has a helpful step-by-step guide to the practicalities of what you’ll need to do and it worth taking a look at.  It covers everything from registering the death, arranging the funeral, benefits which may be available to you through to valuing the Estate and Probate.  https://www.gov.uk/when-someone-dies

Which organisations do I need to inform about the death?
The Tell Us Once service allows you to inform all the relevant government departments when someone dies.  https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/tell-us-once-easy-read-guide You’ll also need to tell banks, utility companies, and landlords or housing associations yourself. 

How do I pay for the funeral?
Paying for the funeral is normally the responsibility of the Executors if there is a Will.  If not, it would fall to family and friends.  However, it is important to check first whether the deceased had a pre-paid funeral plan in place.  Otherwise, their pension scheme or life insurance policy if they had one may contribute an amount towards the funeral.  Banks should be notified hen a person has died, and they will freeze the account(s) as soon as they are informed of the death.  However, they are usually happy to release funds to pay for the funeral and will normally settle the account directly with the funeral directors.

Freezing accounts – When do I do this and how do I pay for utilities and council tax in the meantime?
When someone dies it is important their bank is notified so that their account can be frozen.  If the account is not frozen then direct debits may continue to be taken for services, no longer being used e.g., TV license or magazine subscriptions.  If the bank isn’t notified, payments made might not be recoverable and the account is also at greater risk of fraud.

Can I pay bills from the deceased’s account on their behalf until Probate is granted?
No. Responsibility for this lies with the Executors.  As well as the bank, utility companies should also be notified so that they can make allowances for payments being delayed.

When is Inheritance Tax payable?
Many Estates fall under the threshold to pay inheritance tax but where it is due, it must be paid before Probate is granted as the Court won’t issue the Grant of Probate until the inheritance tax has been paid.  This can seem a big stumbling block where the value of the Estate is tied up in property but there are various ways to deal with this situation if as an Executor, you don’t have access to funds to settle the IHT bill before Probate is granted.  They include paying by instalments, an Executor loan and the Government’s Direct Payment Scheme

Is house insurance still valid once the property becomes unoccupied?
Standard home insurance is mostly for occupied properties, so when someone dies and their property becomes vacant, you may find that the original house insurance is no longer valid.  Unoccupied properties can be more vulnerable to break ins and may sustain more damage should there be a water leak for example which does not get discovered immediately.  It is therefore really important to inform the insurer that the property is now unoccupied as soon as possible.

How we can help
Our friendly and experienced team can take the worry and stress away from you and deal with the entire Probate process for you if you wish or alternatively just obtain the Grant of Probate for you. You may decide that, even though you are named as an Executor in the Will, that you aren’t comfortable with the responsibility after all, or just don’t have the time to dedicate to it.  You can read more about the responsibilities of an Executor in our blog here  https://penderlaw.co.uk/ive-been-asked-to-be-an-executor-should-i-say-yes/

If this is the case, we can guide you through the whole probate process from applying for the Grant of Probate, to valuing the Estate, dealing with all the inheritance tax, property and estate administration aspects of the process.  Information about our pricing can be found here https://penderlaw.co.uk/pricing/ Once we know what is involved in the Estate we are able to provide a more tailored quote.

Get in touch
If you would like to speak to our friendly and experienced team about a Probate matter, you can email info@penderlaw.co.uk or phone us on 01872 241408.