Probate and administration
What is probate?
In the UK, when a person dies, their assets are frozen. These can only be accessed by the deceased's Personal Representative (PR) who administers theirs estate. PRs can be appointed in a Will. Where this is the case, they are officially known as the Executors. If there is not a valid Will, the PRs are known as Administrators and there are rules determining who may take on this role.
In order to administer the estate and collect in the assets of the deceased, PRs have to obtain a legal document to show that they have accepted the office and have legal authority to do this. These are different for Executors and Administrators:
- Executors apply for a Grant of Probate.
- Administrators apply for a Grant of Letters of Administration.
The PRs' duties fall into three categories:
- Collecting in the assets of the estate
- Paying the debts of the estate including the payment of all taxes.
- Distributing the assets to the relevant beneficiaries.
Is a solicitor needed?
Where an estate is complex, for example where there are overseas assets or Inheritance Tax (IHT) to pay, it is usually quicker and easier to use a specialist probate lawyer. However, this is not always the case and where an estate contains relatively few assets - for example, relatively small bank or post office accounts, it may be cheaper for a non-lawyer to complete the probate process. That said, even in these circumstances talking to a probate expert can provide benefits including:
Ensuring that all formalities are completed in the correct way and to time.
Tax planning advice – which can in some cases significantly reduce the amount of IHT payable.
Often instructions are received to obtain probate and then to hand it over to the PRs to complete the estate administration. Where this is the case, advice and assistance can be provided to ensure that any tax planning and saving opportunities are not missed.