When an individual dies, somebody has to deal with their "estate". A person's estate is considered to be made up of money, property, and any possessions they had at the time of their death.
The process of Probate means verifying the validity of the will, collecting any money owed, settling any debts due (including outstanding taxes) and dividing the estate amongst the respective beneficiaries.
Most of the assets (including property) in an estate will remain frozen until the Probate Registry gives authority (via a document known as a Grant of Representation) to the individual(s) nominated in your will as the "Executor". If you have no will, then it is up to appropriate members of the family to act on behalf of the estate.
If there is a will, the estate will pass to the people named in the will. If there is no will, then certain rules known as the Rules of Intestacy will apply.
Whether you are an Executor or the next of kin, at SMR Solicitors, we can provide practical guidance to help you deal with the administration of someone's estate. We can help you determine the size of an estate for Probate and Inheritance Tax purposes. We can prepare an application for the Grant of Representation on your behalf and help you lodge the required forms with the relevant organisations to collect money due to the estate and settle any outstanding debts.
We can arrange the transfer or sale of any shares and work with our residential property team to handle the sale of any property or land owned by the person who has died.
Speak to our probate solicitors in West Sussex
Our probate solicitors’ fees
We always aim to make our probate pricing transparent and competitive. We will provide you with a realistic estimate at the outset, including third-party costs such as Probate Registry fees.
We offer fixed fees for some straightforward probate work, meaning we will agree on a price in advance that will not change unless your requirements change.
For more complicated cases, we will agree on an hourly rate based on the level of expertise required.
We are always happy to discuss our fees with you, so please feel free to get in touch.
Probate and estate administration explained
What is probate?
The word probate is often used to refer to the process of winding up someone’s estate after they have died. The actual Grant of Probate is the legal document giving authority to someone’s executors to finalise their affairs. This is obtained by making an application to the Probate Registry.
Once the Grant of Probate is received, the executors can deal with the administration, finalising the deceased’s financial affairs. This includes collecting in all of their assets, clearing and selling property, calculating and paying Inheritance Tax and other debts, preparing detailed estate accounts and distributing the estate to the beneficiaries named in the will.
When is probate required?
Probate is usually necessary unless the estate is small or where most of the assets were owned jointly with a spouse, who has been left everything.
There is no exact definition of a small estate, but it is usually considered to be under £10,000. Each bank has their own limit above which they will ask for a Grant of Probate before closing an account. This varies from around £5,000 to £50,000.
If the estate included a property, then a Grant of Probate will usually be needed, unless it was held jointly with someone else as joint tenants, in which case the surviving owner automatically owns the property on the death of the other.
How long does probate take?
The Probate Registry will generally take between one and three months to issue the Grant of Probate. The process of administration of estates often takes up to a year or more. The exact time depends on how complicated the estate is and whether the deceased owned a property that needs to be sold.
The deceased’s executors are unlikely to release any funds for at least six months from the date of the Grant of Probate as they will wish to wait to see if any unknown creditors or beneficiaries come forward to make a claim. If the executors fail to do this, then they could face personal liability, should a valid claim be made in the future.
Do you need a solicitor for probate?
It is possible to deal with obtaining a Grant of Probate and winding up an estate without using a solicitor. However, you need to be aware that the job can be exceptionally time-consuming, particularly where the deceased held a large number of different assets, such as savings accounts, investments, shares and property.
It is important to ensure that all of the deceased’s debts are identified and paid and that all of the beneficiaries are located.
Calculating Inheritance Tax can also be complicated, as it can involve calculating tax on a sliding scale on cash gifts made in the previous seven years. It is important not to make any errors, as the executor can be held personally liable for any losses caused to the estate, for example, penalties charged by HM Revenue & Customs for late payment or underpayment of tax.
The executors are required to produce detailed estate accounts showing all assets, liabilities and distributions.
A probate solicitor will be able to assist as required with the various different aspects of the administration. At SMR Solicitors, we can also liaise with colleagues in adjacent departments where necessary. For example, our residential property lawyers can deal with the sale of the deceased’s home on behalf of an executor.
If someone dies without a will, who deals with their estate?
If the deceased did not leave a will, they are said to have died intestate, and their estate will pass according to the Rules of Intestacy. These set out in order of priority who is entitled to inherit. If the deceased leaves a spouse and children, their spouse will inherit the first £322,000 from the estate along with the deceased’s personal possessions. The remainder is split, with one half going to the spouse and the other half shared equally between the children.
Generally, one of the people entitled to inherit under the Rules of Intestacy will deal with the estate. The spouse takes priority, but if they do not wish to take on the role, then the deceased’s children can apply. Instead of applying for a Grant of Probate, they will apply for a Grant of Letters of Administration, which will appoint them as the estate’s administrator.