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Below are some of the questions we are most frequently asked about Probate and deceased estates. Please click on a link to jump to the relevant answer.

What is Probate?

Probate is the process by which, after someone has died having made a Will, certain people (the Executors) are given the legal authority to deal with the deceased's property, accounts and investments (known as their estate). The Grant of Probate is the legal document issued by a Court that authorises the Executors to administer the estate. It is sometimes referred to as a Grant of Representation.

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What is an Executor?

The Executors are the people named in a Will as being authorised to carry out the terms of that Will and to ensure that the estate is correctly administered when the times comes.

People often appoint Solicitors as their executors because they understand the full legal requirements. Non-professional executors such as family members, may also ask a Solicitor to advise them and to assist in the administration of the estate.

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How do I know if the Will is valid?

The validity of a Will is not confirmed until the Grant of Probate has been issued. Sometimes a Will has been signed under pressure or by someone who no longer had the mental capacity to do so, which makes it invalid. However generally speaking a Will is usually valid if it appears to have been signed by the person making it and witnessed by two people.

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What if the deceased didn't make a Will?

Someone who dies without making a Will is said to die intestate. The procedure for dealing with their estate is called Administration, and contact Frisby & Small solicitorsthe document issued by the Court is called a Grant of Letters of Administration. Procedurally, it is not significantly different from dealing with the estate of someone who died leaving a valid Will, but the key difference is that those who inherit (the beneficiaries) are defined under the Rules of intestacy. The outcome depends upon the deceased's personal circumstances, so it may not be obvious who is going to inherit and sometimes, the estate does not therefore pass to those who expect to inherit. Your Solicitor can explain the rules in detail.

Only those entitled to inherit under the rules of intestacy can apply for the Grant to deal with the estate (the Administrators). However not every beneficiary needs to be an Administrator, usually only one or two beneficiaries actually apply for the Grant.

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What is the difference between an Executor, an Administrator and a Personal Representative?

Personal Representatives is the collective name for either Executors or Administrators. Personal Representatives of someone who made a valid Will are called Executors. If someone dies without a Will (intestate) then the people in charge of their estate are called Adminstrators.

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What do Executors or Administrators have to do?

They have to work out what the deceased owned and owed (the estate) and then declare this information to HM Revenue and Customs and the Probate Registry in order to obtain the Grant of Probate (or Letters of Administration) which gives them the legal authority to deal with the deceased's money, investments and property. Your Solicitor can make these enquiries for you and then complete the relevant forms.

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Is a Grant of Probate always needed?

Not always. It is best to check with a Solicitor first, particularly if there is no valid Will. Jointly held property and joint bank accounts usually, but not always, pass to the co-owner without the need for a Grant.

However, even if a Grant is not required, there may also be Inheritance Tax issues of which you might not be aware, and for which an Inheritance Tax return may nonetheless be required. Gifts the deceased made before death can change the situation or if the deceased was the beneficiary of any trust, including trusts of life policies. You should always seek advice from a Solicitor in such cases.

If someone dies with less than 5,000 total in their own name (note: not per account or per investment) then a Grant should not be required. Sometimes, if there is a valid Will, it is possible to deal with a higher figure without a Grant, but this is up to the organisation(s) holding the funds.

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What happens after the Grant of Probate has been obtained?

The Executors/Administrators use the Grant to take control of the deceased's assets, which can then be closed or sold. The outstanding debts and the balance of any Inheritance Tax due (if relevant) need to be paid before any money can be distributed or property or investments transferred, to the beneficiaries.

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Will I have to pay Inheritance Tax?

Under current rules, Inheritance Tax is usually payable when contact Frisby & Small solicitorssomeone dies with an estate worth more than the Inheritance Tax threshold at the date of their death, excluding assets which pass to a surviving spouse, registered civil partner or charities. Some types of asset are exempt. Inheritance Tax may also be payable if the deceased made gifts in their lifetime or was the beneficiary of a trust.

Your Solicitor can advise you on the up-to-date provisions. You should seek legal advice if you have any concerns. More information on Inheritance Tax.

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When does Inheritance Tax have to be paid?

Most of the tax has to be paid before any Grant can be obtained. Some tax can be paid in instalments. It is payable out of the estate but sometimes there is no easily available money to do this and your Solicitor can advise on what to do in this situation.

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How do I pay for the funeral?

The funeral costs are usually paid out of the estate, provided of course there is sufficient money to do so. This should be checked before any funeral is organised, as people making any such arrangements are legally responsible for paying the account if there is not enough money in the estate. Although the deceased's accounts are frozen upon death, if there are sufficient funds in the account(s), the banks will usually agree to release money to pay the Funeral Directors before any Grant is issued.

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Do I have to pay the deceased's debts?

Contrary to many people's impression, debts do not die with you and do have to be paid after someone has died, if there is enough money in the estate.

Once someone has died their assets are frozen until the Grant is obtained, so the debts cannot be paid at once. The estate includes not just money and bank accounts, but items such as personal possessions and any property, unless it is owned jointly with someone else, when different rules apply. If you are not sure if there is enough money to pay all the debts, it is essential that you protect yourself by taking legal advice before doing anything. Your Solicitor will advise you on the correct procedure for dealing with the creditors.

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Do I need to keep records?

You should always keep a record of payments and receipts. You may need to declare income received during the administration to HM Revenue and Customs. You will need to show Accounts to the beneficiaries to explain what is due to them.

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How long will it take to deal with a deceased person's estate?

This is a very difficult question to answer and almost impossible to predict with certainty. It depends upon the size and complexity of the estate, the type of assets involved (ie: whether just bank accounts, or other assets such as shares, investments or overseas properties), whether Inheritance Tax needs to be paid and the number of beneficiaries, especially if any are under the age of 18. If an estate consists mainly of jointly held assets and just a few bank accounts, most of the money may well be distributed fairly quickly. If there is a property to sell or trusts to establish, or Inheritance Tax to declare and pay, then it will take longer.

As an indication, if we are asked to obtain all the information before applying for the Grant, and the estate is worth less than £325,000, it can take up to 3 months after we are instructed for the responses to be received, checked, submitted to the executors for approval and then the paperwork for the Grant application prepared. The Executors then need to sign the papers.

Most applications can now be submitted online on behalf of the executor(s), with the supporting paperwork then sent to the Registry, who's current guidelines state that it takes up to 16 weeks for the Grant to be issued once the papers are received.  More complicated applications, which include some forms of intestacy applications, have to be submitted on a paper application form and the present guidelines for the issue of Grants for these applications are 24 weeks once the forms are received. These guideline timings can vary slightly, but the Registry will not issue any Grant more urgently even if requested unless the reason conforms to one of its very few permitted exceptions.

Once the Grant is received, it can take anything from 6 weeks to perhaps a few months for all the liquid assets (ie: not the house) to be sold, closed or transferred, assuming there is agreement as to what is to happen, and all forms are signed quickly.

Due to the timescales for a Grant to be issued, most straightforward estates (see below) are currently taking at least 18 months if the house sells quickly and none of the complicating factors are present.

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How much will it cost to deal with a deceased person's estate?

Unlike some organisations, we do not charge a percentage of the value of the estate. We feel the cost should reflect the level of work you have asked us to carry out – some people ask Solicitors to make all the necessary enquiries, whilst others do most of the research themselves and just ask the contact Frisby & Small solicitorsSolicitors to assist in the application for the Grant and to advise on the distribution and tax matters. The number of assets, rather than their value, and the complexity of the Will (or of ascertaining the family details if there is no Will) are factors that affect the overall charge. We therefore charge at an hourly rate, and will give an indication of the likely costs at the beginning. As you will appreciate, unexpected problems can increase the costs as the administration progresses, but we can keep you informed and advise you on how to minimise costs where appropriate.

At present the lawyers in the Probate department charge between £190 + VAT and £220 + VAT per hour of work when assisting clients in the administration of estates. A higher rate is charged in cases where the partners of the firm are also acting as Executors. The charge rates are reviewed annually. Currently the department lawyers have at least 20 years experience of dealing with this type of work.

We happy to discuss fixed fee arrangements for certain matters.

Costs outline

We are now required to give an indication of what a “standard” probate costs. For the reasons given above, this is difficult: as probate work deals with an individual’s affairs, the situations are as variable as people are. As a rule our fees when using the hourly rate tend to fall between 1% and 2.5% of the value of the estate, although that is not the basis upon which we charge. Smaller value estates with quite a few low value accounts at different organisations require more work than larger value estates where everything is held at just one or two banks. However, using the hourly rate above for a fairly common probate scenario where:

  • the surviving parent has died leaving a Will prepared by this firm
  • the Will appoints the deceased’s two adult and only children as executors
  • the same two children are inheriting everything between them
  • the deceased was only married once and the children are from this marriage
  • all assets are in the UK
  • the deceased owned their own house, which they occupied until their death
  • the deceased also had:
    • two bank accounts at a high street bank
    • one account with a local building society and the passbook is available
    • income from the state pension and a small works pension
    • no personal possessions of particular value
  • the entire estate is worth less than the prevailing Nil-Rate Band for Inheritance Tax (currently £325,000)
  • the deceased did not pay income tax
  • the deceased’s paperwork was in order
  • the Tell Us Once service has been used
  • the estate of the first parent to die has been fully dealt with
  • no-one is challenging the terms of the Will
  • the beneficiaries agree on what is to happen with the house and the assets

and assuming also that at least one executor is local and therefore available to deal with matters on the ground such as organising payment of the funeral account, collating the deceased’s paperwork and bringing to us, retrieving post from the house on an ongoing basis, meeting with estate agents at the property for valuations, reading meters and informing the utility companies (and continuing to do so until the property is sold), informing the buildings insurance provider, organising clearing the property and sharing of the deceased’s possessions, funding ongoing bills as they arise (for later reimbursement) and therefore such work does not fall to us, our fees would usually be between £3.500 - £4,500 plus VAT.

The above fee estimate would include meeting with the executor(s) to take instructions and go through paperwork, informing the banks and building society of the death, receiving correspondence from utility companies and contact Frisby & Small solicitorspension providers concerning the final position, instructing an estate agent to prepare a valuation, ascertaining the total value of the estate, preparing the papers for the application for the Grant and subsequently collecting in and distributing the money, including the property sale proceeds, and preparing Estate Accounts. It assumes no Inheritance Tax, Capital Gains Tax or Income Tax is payable by the estate.

This estimate does not include dealing with the sale of the property - if this firm was asked to assist the prices for that work are shown in the conveyancing section of this website.

The costs might be lower if the deceased was in care at their death and their house had already been sold and the proceeds were in accounts at the same bank or building society. However, such a scenario increases the chances that the interest earned on the accounts would mean that Income Tax would need handling and higher fees would be incurred. However, if the proceeds of sale had been widely invested, as is likely, the work in dealing with each different investment would increase the cost although the estate would be worth the same actual value, and again income tax and possibly Capital Gains Tax might need handling.

The cost would almost certainly be higher if, whilst the estate was still basically as outlined initially above but any of the following, as examples only, were relevant:

  • the deceased’s paperwork were not organised and therefore it is unclear what they have and we therefore have to go through piles of papers
  • the deceased was in receipt of any means-tested benefits as the DWP will usually raise enquiries about the value of the estate and request details of the deceased’s assets and income for previous years
  • the deceased’s income was slightly higher such that income tax was paid so it would be necessary to prepare a Return or Reclaim to date of death and possibly for the previous year or liaise with their accountant in this respect
  • the Executors do not live locally,
  • the Executors are not good at returning paperwork they are sent for signature
  • the Will included gifts of fixed sums to other people or perhaps charities
  • anyone due to inherit is under the age of 18
  • there was Equity Release on the deceased’s property
  • the beneficiaries do not agree on what is to happen with the deceased’s assets, or for instance, what price to accept for the house

Please note these are examples, not an exhaustive list

If someone has investments or shares, then the costs will be higher, especially if the share certificates cannot be located and need replacing. If the shares are already managed by a broker, our fees may not increase so much but of course there will be charges from the broker. The presence of additional properties, whether or not with tenants, or any business interest, would also increase costs significantly.

If the surviving parent did not inherit everything when the first parent died or if their own estate (including lifetime gifts) is worth more than twice the prevailing Nil-Rate Band (therefore currently more than £650,000) and regardless of whether Inheritance Tax is actually payable, full and detailed Inheritance Tax submissions would be required, and would increase the costs significantly. An estimate would be given when the details were known.

Other expenses

In addition to our legal fees, there are some direct costs, commonly referred to as disbursements, which are not part of the solicitor’s fees, but have to be paid to other organisations at various stages in the process. Payment for these is usually required up front.
These include:

  • a Court fee for the Probate Registry. This is currently £273 for a solicitor-supported Grant application, plus £1.50 for each copy of the Grant required – usually one copy per institution that has assets of the deceased.
  • If there is any property or land, the Land Registry charge up to £6 per property for a copy of the Land Registry entry to confirm ownership details, and it is usually prudent for these to be obtained at an early stage of the Probate process.

Whilst not part of our charges, executors/administrators should also be aware that the following items may need funding depending on the nature of the estate:

  • Inheritance Tax
  • Buildings and/or contents insurance
  • Fees for clearance of the property prior to sale
  • Valuation fees from estate agents
  • Valuation fees from auctioneers for the personal possessions
  • Valuation fees for shareholdings
  • Energy Performance Certificate for any property being sold
  • Conveyancing fees and Land Registry fees if the property is transferred to any beneficiary rather than sold
  • Statutory Advertisement (Trustee Act Notice) - £100-£300

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