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What is probate and what must you do when someone dies?

View profile for Claire Cutts
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When a loved one dies and you are named as the executor, there are several very important jobs for you to complete. It’s not uncommon for the executor to employ the services of a solicitor at this stage, especially as some of the jobs can be time consuming and stressful and at a time when you are grieving, dealing with Probate might be one job too much.

But what is probate and what must you do when someone dies?

In short, Probate is “the legal right to deal with someone’s property, money and possessions (their ‘estate’) when they die” and it’s necessary to jump through some legal hoops to be permitted to act on the wishes of the deceased.

When someone dies, there are many things that the executor must do, ranging from obtaining the death certificate and applying for Grant of Probate to calculating the value of the estate and calculating and paying any inheritance tax due to the inland revenue.

What are the Probate steps?

The Probate process is complex, and unless the deceased’s situation is simple, then there are many offshoots from what we’d call the happy path. But essentially there are Five Key Steps to the Probate Process.

Step 1 – Get your paperwork in order.

The first step is to find the Will. Oftentimes this will be held at the deceased’s home or with their solicitor. Either way, you will need to have the original will in hand before you can proceed to the next steps.

There is no Will. What happens now? If there is no will then the matter falls under the rules of intestacy which sets out who will inherit. The people who will inherit under rules of intestacy become the administrators (similar to executors) of the estate. In some cases, genealogists are needed to establish who inherits. If the Will can’t be located, it depends on why it can’t be located and where it was stored as to what happens. If it is known that a valid will was in existence when the person died, for example it was stored by a solicitor and has been lost, a copy can be used. If it was stored by the deceased at home and has been lost during their lifetime then the rules of intestacy apply in most cases.  

You will also need to get the death certificate. The deceased’s GP or hospital will provide you with some documentation which you must take to your local Registry Office who will provide the death certificate.

Due to Covid, the process has changed recently, and the necessary paperwork is being temporarily posted to the Registry Office by the GP or hospital and then the person registering the death will have a telephone appointment with the Registry Office. The death certificate will then be posted out to the Executor. Obviously, this is just a temporary arrangement and we expect the usual process to resume once Covid restrictions allow.

It’s also wise at this point to speak to and instruct a solicitor. The process can become complex and a solicitor will have all the necessary skills and experience to help you navigate the process with as little trouble as possible.

Step 2 – Get your calculator out!

It’s time to calculate the value of the estate. This can be a complex process as you’ll need to dig deep into every aspect of the deceased’s property and financial matters including, but not limited to, the value of any cash savings, pensions, stocks and shares and bank account balances.

Often these companies won’t release any money until the Grant of Probate has been received (Step 3 below) but some might release cash for the funding of the deceased’s funeral.

It’s at this stage you’ll need to calculate any Inheritance Tax that’s due.

Your solicitor can ease this burden and can undertake all the above on your behalf including the complicated calculations for any tax that’s due.

HMRC will also require the payment of any Inheritance Tax at this point and yes, this is before the Grant of Probate and yes, this is before any of the assets have been sold or cash obtained from the financial companies. Your solicitor can help navigate this process on your behalf including discussing any payment arrangements with HMRC.

Step 3 – Applying for Grant of Probate

Applying for the Grant of Probate is a relatively simple process as steps 1 and 2 will have been completed and as such all that needs to be sent to the Court is an application form along with the Will and the Inheritance Tax form.

Step 4 – It’s time to gather the assets

Gathering the assets can be a tricky job as it involves liaising with the financial companies and closing all accounts, selling, or transferring stocks and shares, and selling or transferring any property. In addition to this, any personal items (watches, artwork, sentimental items) must also be gathered.

It is also important at this stage to calculate any Capital Gains Tax and Income Tax that may be due to the Inland Revenue and where any is due, it is at this stage that any monies owed must be paid.

If you need help then you should contact a skilled and experienced solicitor who will do all the liaising with the companies, fill in the forms, calculate the tax due and arrange payment and reporting of the tax. A solicitor will also prepare estate accounts to show what was due to the estate, what has been received, what has been paid out, and how much each beneficiary is due. The estate accounts give the beneficiaries a clear account of how the solicitor has worked out what is due to them.

Step 5 – Distributing the assets

Once all assets have been gathered, it is time to distribute the assets as per the deceased’s wishes as documented in the Will.

This can involve transferring cash to the beneficiary’s bank accounts, the transferring of stocks and shares into the beneficiaries’ names and transferring the title of any property to the beneficiaries.

A solicitor can help to prepare the paperwork to transfer any stocks and shares or property. A solicitor can also get receipts from beneficiaries to confirm payment and essentially have an independent record to show that the executor has distributed everything correctly.

Why should you use a solicitor for Probate?

The process for dealing with Probate can be simple if an individual’s affairs and estate is simple. But when there are multiple beneficiaries, potential for Inheritance Tax, Capital Gains Tax, Income Tax, numerous financial companies to correspond with, and an estate to be valued, then the burden of undertaking all of this can be handed over to a solicitor, allowing you time to grieve and be present from your grieving family. But even if it is a simple matter, often people don’t have the time or inclination to deal with such matters and if this is the case, then a solicitor can ease the burden.

Here at Thornton Jones Solicitors we have a skilled and experienced team who can deal with the Probate on your behalf. With fixed costs starting at 1.5% of the gross value of the estate, we can undertake the probate process on your behalf with the costs to do so being transparent.

To learn more about our costs please visit our dedicated Probate page on our website or please call us at any of our four Yorkshire based offices and one of our team will be very happy to help.

How do I get in Touch?

Call us at any of our four offices to discuss your needs and to make an appointment.

Garforth
Westbourne House,99 Lidgett Lane, Garforth, Leeds, LS25 1LJ
Tel: 0113 246 4423
Email: enquiries@thorntonjones.co.uk

Ossett
25 Bank Street, Ossett, WF5 8PS
Tel: 01924 586466
Email: enquiries@thorntonjones.co.uk

Sherburn in Elmet
6 Finkle Hill, Sherburn in Elmet, Leeds, LS25 6EA
Tel: 01977 350500
Email: enquiries@thorntonjones.co.uk

Wakefield
Bank House, 1 Burton Street, Wakefield, WF1 2GF
Tel: 01924 290029
Email: enquiries@thorntonjones.co.uk

About Claire Cutts

Claire is a Senior Private Client Solicitor at Thornton Jones Solicitors. Claire joined the Thornton Jones Private Client team in June 2021. Claire qualified as a solicitor in 2011. She specialises in offering advice on Wills, Probate, Lasting Powers of Attorney, Trusts and Court of Protection deputyship applications. Claire is a fully qualified member of the Society for Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP) having attained her STEP Diploma in Will Preparation – England and Wales in January 2019. She is also a fully accredited member of Solicitors for the Elderly. 

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