Probate solicitors - Estate administration

Dealing with a bereavement is difficult enough but sometimes you might also be required to handle the administration of a loved one’s estate.

You may have to arrange the funeral, go through personal papers to find out what assets and debts there may be, apply to the probate registry and deal with beneficiaries and other family members. Being a personal representative of an estate can be an onerous task. Our experienced probate solicitors can help by advising personal representatives on what to do and even deal with the entire estate on your behalf.

We aim to make our estate administration pricing as transparent as possible. We strive to achieve this by offering fixed prices for our probate services rather than charging hourly rates or complex percentage rates.

If you would like to speak to a specialist, please call us on 0203 837 3658 for a no-obligation initial chat with one of our friendly advisors.

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Probate and estate administration lawyers - areas of specialism

Probate is the process of sorting out a person’s estate after they have passed away. This can include repaying debts and distributing assets in accordance with their Will, if there is one, or through rules of intestacy if no Will was made. If you have been appointed as the executor of a person’s estate, there are specific rules that dictate how the estate will be distributed and how to notify the authorities. At Stephensons, our experts can help you with this process. Our areas of expertise include:

  • Obtaining grants of probate (if there is a will)
  • Grants of letters of administration (if there is no will)
  • Dealing with the administration of an estate and distribution to beneficiaries
  • Preparation of estate accounts for personal representatives
  • Preparation of and advice on inheritance tax returns
  • Post-death arrangements to reduce inheritance tax

Whether the estate is small and straightforward or highly complex, our probate solicitors can help ease the burden at this stressful time. Contact us today on 0203 837 3658.

Probate and estate administration FAQs

Why does an estate have to obtain probate?

An estate will need to have a Grant of Probate if the deceased person owned property and had other assets in their sole name. Depending on their value, assets which are held in a person's sole name (property, bank accounts, shares and other investments) will often require a grant of probate or a grant of letters of administration before they can be cashed in or sold. Some assets are owned jointly, such as a joint bank account or a jointly owned house. Grants are not usually needed for these assets to pass to the surviving joint owner. The value of the share may have to be declared for inheritance tax though.

Do I need probate for a small estate?

Whether or not you will need probate for a small estate will depend on whether the deceased held assets in their sole name. If they owned property, including land, houses or buildings, then probate is required. If they don’t own any property but have bank accounts or investments in their sole name, then depending on their value, you may need a grant of representation. Financial institutions, such as banks, set their own limits on when probate is required, so you will need to check with each individual organisation to see if you will need a grant of representation to deal with them.

How to value an estate for probate?

Valuing an estate for probate is one of the first tasks that will need to be completed. The best place to start is to make a list of all the deceased assets, debts and you will need to include non-tax-exempt gifts that were made in the last seven years before their death. Depending on the complexity of the estate, this can take some time. At Stephensons, our probate solicitors can help you to value the estate of your loved one. For more information about our probate services, contact us today on 0203 837 3658.

Can you settle an estate without probate?

You can only settle an estate without probate if the deceased didn't own property and their other sole owned assets, such as bank accounts, are under the financial institution's threshold for grant of representation. If all assets are held in joint names, then you may be able to settle the estate without probate.

How long after probate do you need to distribute the estate?

Once probate is granted, or if there is no will, letter of administration, it can take up to 6-12 months for all the debts to be settled, funds transferred, and assets sold. If the estate is large and complex, this may take longer.

    Can you sue an estate after probate?

    It is possible to sue an estate or challenge a Will after probate has been issued, however, it may mean that the case is made more complex. There are time limits when it comes to contesting probate and these vary, depending on the nature of the claim:

    • An inheritance Act claim for financial provision from an estate has a six-month time limit from the date of the Grant of Probate 
    • A beneficiary claiming against an estate has a 12-year time limit
    • Fraud/claiming against an executor for appropriating estate assets does not have a time limit

    Do we have to pay any tax?

    There are three taxes which could apply when administering an estate. There may be inheritance tax to pay on the value of the net estate. There could be capital gains tax to pay on the increase in the value of certain assets (e.g a house or shareholding investments) between the date of death and the date of sale. Income tax could be payable on any "income" into the estate since the date of death (e.g. bank interest since the date of death).

    What do we do about debts?

    If the estate is solvent (there are more assets than debts) then the debts are usually paid off after the personal representatives have collected in all the assets, once they have obtained the grant. Sometimes gifts in a Will are left subject to a charge or secured debt. Sometimes a Will sets aside a fund for the payment of debts. A properly drafted Will should provide the personal representatives with all they need to know about how debts should be paid from the estate.

    Do we need to keep records?

    Personal representatives should keep records of the funds they have collected in and debts they have paid out from the estate. The beneficiaries of an estate may be entitled to see an estate account when they receive their share of the estate.

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    How much does probate cost?

    Please note that our fixed or estimated fees for Wills and Probate work are based upon a matter having standard features. They give an indication of the likely range of prices in most instances. However if your matter has non-standard features such as complex property, family relationships, dispositions or risks, then we may not be able to assist you for the fees shown on our website. In that instance we may give you an alternative fee quote based on hourly rates or  further fixed or estimated fees.
     
    Grant of probate/grant of letters of administration only - £890 plus VAT*
    Executors/administrators can then deal with the administration of the estate after we have obtained the grant for them.
     
    Dealing with entire estate (obtaining grant, collecting in assets and distributing to beneficiaries)
    Average estate values are under £325,000 and with no inheritance tax payable, where this is the case our average prices are :
     
    Basic price range
    Estate of 1 property and up to 4 accounts - £1,575 plus VAT*
    Estate of 1 property and from 5 to 10 accounts - £2,160 plus VAT*
     
    Additional costs relating to the administration of the estate
    If there is no Will there will be an additional charge in relation to the increased complexity £300 plus VAT*
     
    Banded fee scale in relation to number of shareholdings/stock
    Additional fee as follows:
    1 to 3 share holdings - £100 plus VAT*
    3 to 5 share holdings - £250 plus VAT*
    6 plus share holdings - £300 plus VAT*
     
    Banded fee scale in relation to number of beneficiaries
    Additional fee as follows:
    3 to 5 beneficiaries - £100 plus VAT
    6 plus beneficiaries - £250 plus VAT
     
    *Third party costs
    • Probate Court fee of £155
    • £1.50 for each office copy of the grant required (1 per asset usually)
    • £3 plus VAT HM Land Registry official copy entry
    • £2 bankruptcy search
    • £5 plus VAT for electronic ID search
    • HM Land Registry registration fees based on scales and the value and status of the property
    • Other third party costs will be advised as required, e.g. accountant’s fee for potential income tax return, statutory advertisement fee to advertise for unknown creditors, asset tracing fee
    • There may be additional third party costs for lost share certificates and share registrar and/or sale agent fees on transfer or sale of the shares
    • S27 Advertisements in the London Gazette and a local newspaper in from £150 - £300 depending on the local newspaper advertising costs.
    • Stockbroker fees - £25 - £150 depending on the number of shareholdings to be dealt with.

    How long does probate take?

    The probate procedure involves the personal representatives valuing the estate's assets, taking from this any debt amounts and then notifying the probate registry what the value of the remaining estate is. The length of time involved largely depends on what is in the estate. If there is only a house, then it will depend on the housing market and how quickly a sale can be agreed. If there are bank accounts (containing over £5,000 usually) then you may be able to get the grant within about one month. If there are shares, it could take longer. The more wide-ranging the types of assets there are in an estate, the longer it could take. If inheritance tax has to be paid, the values of the assets in an estate may have to be agreed with the Inland Revenue and this could take time.

    Key stages of obtaining a grant of probate

    • Taking instructions
    • Obtaining estate values from the executor
    • Preparation of Statement of Truth and HMRC forms
    • Submission to Probate Registry/HMRC
    • Obtaining grant and copies and provision to the executor

    Key stages - administration of an estate

    Our prices include the following:

    • Taking instructions
    • Obtaining estate values
    • Preparation of Statement of Truth and HMRC forms
    • Submission to Probate Registry/HMRC
    • Payment of tax (if any)
    • Obtaining grant and copies
    • Providing these to financial institutions
    • Collecting in assets
    • Preparation of estate accounts
    • Obtaining executor approval and distribution of the estate
    *Not included in the price are the sales fees on properties, estate agency, taxes and  HMLR fees.

    What qualifications do the team hold?

    All estate administration work is supervised by a qualified solicitor. Specific experience can be seen in the individual staff profiles.

    The advice provided to non-face to face clients will be through electronic or written communication only e.g. by telephone and email. Stephensons Solicitors LLP assumes no responsibility for, and shall not be liable for, (a) verification of mental capacity or testamentary capacity (b) verification of any undue influence or duress involved (c) the execution of any documents.

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    What to do when someone dies - a guide to probate

    Dealing with the financial affairs of a loved one who has died is a challenging responsibility at an already emotional and stressful time. Our team of experienced solicitors are here to assist you with a simple guide of what to expect.

    After coming to terms with the loss of a loved one you may also be faced with the practical matters of dealing with a death. Initially the death must be reported to a doctor who will issue a medical certificate.

    A funeral director can then begin to make arrangements and the death certificate can be issued.

    It is advisable to retrieve the Will to check the identity of the executors unless you prefer to wait until after the funeral. It is important to seek the advice of a legal professional, as a solicitor can relieve any complex issues and speed up the process by dealing with the legal paperwork.

    Registering a death

    When someone dies, the death must be registered with the local Registrar of Births, Marriages and Deaths. Usually a close family member registers the death. All deaths in England and Wales should be registered within five days of the death unless there is a delay due to the involvement of the coroner.

    At the register office you will need

    • The medical certificate of cause of death, signed by the doctor, unless it has already been sent straight to the registrar
    • The NHS medical card of the deceased
    • The deceased’s birth certificate, if you have it

    You will be asked for the following information about the deceased:

    • Full name, including maiden name (and any other former names or aliases)
    • Address and occupation
    • Date and place of birth as shown on the birth certificate
    • Date and place of death as shown on the medical certificate of cause of death
    • Name and date of birth of the deceased’s spouse whether living or not (and in Scotland details of former spouses)
    • Spouse or civil partner’s occupation

    When someone dies you need to apply for the legal authority to deal with their property, money and possessions (also known as their estate). This is known as the grant of representation and is the legal authority obtained through the probate registry.

    What is probate?

    Probate is a term used for the legal document you require in order to deal with the estate. The legal document will be referred to as a grant of probate if there is a Will or grant of letters of administration if there is no Will. It gives those who are responsible permission to deal with the estate when the value of the estate is over £5,000 after the funeral costs have been deducted. However, certain assets such as shareholdings and life policies may require the grant even if the estate is under £5000.

    Is there a Will?

    The Will should appoint executors who are responsible for managing the estate.

    What is an executor?

    The person outlined in the Will who is responsible for dealing with the deceased’s estate. It is a position which carries duties and responsibilities. If the executor is not sure about the deceased’s financial dealings they should consider placing statutory advertisements which are legal notices to protect the executor against unknown creditors.

    What is an estate?

    An estate is the value of the deceased’s assets less any debts, such as the funeral account.

    If there is no Will

    If there is no Will the individual has ‘died intestate’ therefore any assets will be split according to the rules of intestacy. These rules set out who is entitled to share in the estate in a fixed order. The same rules will apply if a Will is not legally valid. Any Will or intestate estate is capable of being varied if all beneficiaries are in agreement. Please speak to one of our team for more information.

    Grant of representation

    To gather in certain financial policies and bank accounts you must apply for a ‘grant of representation.’ This means you will be officially appointed to carry out the expressed wishes according to the Will or rules of intestacy and distribute the estate.

    You will need to complete the relevant forms and have all the figures to hand. In some complex cases this could take several months. Your legal advisor can help with your application and present the correct evidence in order to speed up the process.

    A grant of representation may not be needed if any assets are jointly owned. You will need a copy of the death certificate to establish how much the estate is worth and if assets can be obtained without a grant of representation.

    Inheritance tax

    Inheritance tax must be paid before a grant of representation is issued. If it is not paid within six months after the person’s death, interest will be applied and additional financial penalties may be incurred. In some cases the tax can be paid in annual instalments. The rates of inheritance tax can be confusing but your legal advisor will be able to guide you through the process ensuring you comply with rules set by HM Revenue and Customs.

    Distributing the estate

    Once any property is sold and monies are collected in, the debts should be paid. Estate accounts should be produced showing monies coming in and going out of the estate. All beneficiaries should be named in the accounts and their entitlement documented. Once any outstanding debts have been paid the estate can be distributed to those who are named in the will or under the rules of intestacy.

    Documentation

    If inheritance tax is paid, all paperwork should be kept until HM Revenue & Customs have sent a letter of clearance (stating all their enquiries are complete). This can sometimes take a number of months after the grant of representation has been issued.

    If there is a potential challenge to the estate, time limits can apply in which to bring a challenge, based on the date of the grant of representation. A member of our team will be able to assist further with advice around this.  

    If you would like to speak to member of the specialist probate and estate administration team here at Stephensons please call us on 0203 837 3658 and we would be happy to discuss your situation and how we can help. You can also complete our online enquiry form and we will contact you directly.

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