Caroline Selley, Associate at Heckford Norton in Letchworth Garden City, explains the importance of Probate and following the right process, in the event of a relative or friend’s death.
Approx. 3-minute video.
If you have lost a relative or friend it can be an upsetting and difficult time. It isn’t made any easier when somebody says that, “you need to get probate sorted out“.
What is probate?
Put simply, it is a word commonly used to describe the process of the administration of somebody’s estate after death, whether or not they have made a Will. In practical terms, it means dealing with the assets and the debts of the deceased and making sure what’s left goes to the right people.
Well, what is the process then?
In order to sort out or administer an estate after death, you may need to apply to a Court to obtain a document. That is called the “Grant of Probate”. Once you have it, you will be able to obtain funds from the bank or sell a property. Usually, the Will of the deceased will appoint somebody as an executor. The executor is the person who has the responsibility of the estate administration.
If I am named in the Will as the executor, can’t I just sort out the estate without the Grant of Probate?
Legally, if you are that person, you can because your authority comes from the Will but, practically speaking, your authority needs to be affirmed by that Grant of Probate. You may well therefore need to go through the process.
Is the process easy – Can’t I just fill in a form online somewhere?
Yes, possibly. You will need, however, to consider whether there is Inheritance Tax to pay.
Oh no! What’s that?
Well, it is a tax on estates payable to the Government – just like any other tax such as Income Tax. And, just like any other tax, there are limits and exceptions. It can be a complex picture that needs somebody familiar with the process. That’s where your lawyer can help.
So, when somebody dies, what’s the first thing I should do?
Don’t panic! Fear of the unknown is very common. If the deceased died in hospital, speak to the hospital bereavement office. They will help. If the death was elsewhere, speak to the local GP surgery. They will point you in the right direction. After that you can go and register the death with the local registrar of births, marriages and deaths. Once you have registered the death, you can go to see the funeral director.
And what’s next?
Well, the best thing you can do is speak to a solicitor. Many executors, not really knowing what comes next, contact everybody they can possibly think of. It may not ultimately help. Immediately after death you need to do two things. You need to sort out the funeral and preserve the deceased’s estate. This may mean locking up the house and simply maintaining everything until it can be dealt with properly. If you do those two simple things, you won’t go far wrong.
And what if there’s no Will?
That is called “an intestacy”. A Grant from the Court may still be necessary. It simply has a different name. It is called “Letters of Administration”. There is a pecking order as to who should deal with it. You may still be able to register the death but I would advise you to speak to a solicitor as soon as you can.
Probate can be a daunting prospect when you have never experienced it before. Sadly, too many people think that Google has the answer. You will probably need professional help. Your adviser will be able to break it down into simple steps and, if you follow that advice, you will be able to deal with the estate of your relative or friend in the way in which the deceased would have hoped.