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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 deceasedís 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 didnít 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 deceasedís 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 deceasedís 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 deceasedís 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 deceasedís 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 deceasedís debts?

Contrary to many peopleís 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.

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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 as we feel this is not a fair way to charge. We feelcontact Frisby & Small solicitors the cost should reflect the level of work you have asked us to carry out Ė some people ask Solicitors to make all the necessary enquiries, whilst others do most of the research themselves and just ask the Solicitors 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 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. We happy to discuss fixed fee arrangements for certain matters.

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