Probate Solicitors

probate solicitorsAt Elite Law, our experienced probate solicitors provide a comprehensive probate service, and are ready to assist if you require expert legal advice or assistance following the death of a loved one.

We understand that dealing with the loss of a loved one can be emotional and having the difficult task of juggling that while taking on the challenge of administration of the estate can be an incredibly daunting prospect.

Our probate solicitors have a vast amount of experience in administering estates and can provide you with as much or as little assistance as required.

We represent clients throughout the country and in addition to office meetings, we offer virtual meetings via telephone or video conferencing software such as Zoom or Skype.

If you would like to discuss your circumstances or requirements with one of our experienced probate solicitors, please call us on 0800 086 2929, email info@elitelawsolicitors.co.uk or complete our Free Online Enquiry Form to arrange a free, no-obligation discussion.

What is probate?

Probate is defined in England and Wales as the encompassing process of administering the estate of a deceased person. Probate includes the organisation of all assets – such as possessions, money, and property – of a person who has passed away.

The probate process refers to the entire financial and legal system involved in handling the assets of someone who has died, from applying for a grant of probate to carrying out requested sales, transfers and distributions included as part of the Will.

Probate ends once all necessary processes are complete, including the payment of taxes and debts. All matters relating to inheritance must also be completed to end probate. In England and Wales, approval for a grant of probate is required before any claims, transfers, sales, or distribution defined in the Will can be enacted upon.

What is a grant of probate?

If you are named an executor in a Will, an application and approval for a grant of probate is required. The grant of probate provides authorisation for the executor to deal with the deceased’s assets as laid out within the Will. This legal document is necessary to access certain assets, such as bank accounts and settle existing debts and taxes.

When you apply for a grant of probate with a Will, you need to provide specific documentation and information to the government. The more information you have to hand, the less time you will need to prepare. An inventory of assets, property valuation, death certificate, debt information and tax details can all be used as part of the probate application.

Our experienced probate solicitors can assist you with your probate application, with the average time from application to authorisation currently taking up to 8 weeks due to delays caused by the pandemic. Once the executor has been authorised, that individual can then continue handling the assets legally.

In cases where no Will exists, probate still applies in a slightly different form. Instead, a grant of letters of administration will be granted to a specific person to carry out the required legal process. Typically, this is next of kin as defined under the rules of intestacy. We have covered what happens if there is no will in greater detail below.

Is probate always required?

Probate is required as a legal process in England and Wales in specific circumstances. One case in which probate is needed is where the deceased solely owned property, land or similar assets. In some cases, a bank or financial institution may also request a grant of probate to access specific assets such as savings or bonds.

Many people confuse the concept of probate with the act of handling the Will itself. Probate still applies whether or not an individual has a Will in place, though slightly different terms may be used, such as a “grant of letters of administration” instead of a “grant of probate”.

In some cases, probate will not be required to deal with an individual’s Will and assets. If the person who died jointly owned assets, these will automatically be passed on to the other surviving party, requiring no intervention from an executor. If the individual only had savings or premium bonds accessible without a grant of probate, probate is not a necessary part of the executor process.

If you are unsure of whether or not probate is required in your circumstances, get in touch with our expert probate solicitors by calling 0800 086 2929, emailing info@elitelawsolicitors.co.uk or by completing our Free Online Enquiry Form.

What is the probate process?

Probate can be a complicated process depending on the specifics of the deceased person’s assets and the specifications of their Will. The easiest way to completely understand how probate works is to break the process down into five steps:

Identification of assets

The first stage in probate is gathering information and documentation to identify the specific assets and liabilities the deceased held. This includes anything that contributes to the estate’s value, from property, possessions and investments to loans and other debts against their name. As part of this process, entitlement to the estate based on the Will should be confirmed.

Probate application and tax management

An inheritance tax return should be created and submitted, whether tax is likely to be due or not at this point in the probate process. If any tax is owed, this should be paid directly to HM Revenue & Customs as part of the continuing financial management of the estate. Once payment is arranged, the executor should apply for a grant of probate.

Management and liquidation of assets

Once a grant of probate has been approved, the executor can begin work on selling assets, also known as liquidation. Liabilities such as debts and loans should be paid at this point, and any income tax or capital gains taxes due on the estate should be paid directly to HMRC. This provides a clean slate for the inheritance process, with no unexpected costs, taxes, or bills at a later date.

Estate account documentation and approval

At this point, the executor or their representative ensures all estate accounts are appropriately documented, including payments outgoing and incoming from the estate. Once these calculations are complete, the final estate accounts are prepared for final approval and distribution.

Completion of probate

Assuming there are no additional requirements or disputes regarding the Will or estate, distribution can be completed according to the specifications of the Will. All assets are transferred into the name of beneficiaries, and the remaining funds are distributed as defined. If the Will is not specific about distribution, this will be carried out according to intestacy rules.

What do probate solicitors do?

Probate solicitors are legal professionals with specific expertise and training in handling probate cases. This requires a level of skill and precision in legal matters, accountancy and the administrative processes involved in probate. A probate solicitor can provide expert guidance, support and insight into Wills and intestate laws to ensure the inheritance process is as straightforward and convenient as possible for all parties involved.

Probate solicitors can be an invaluable source of support for executors and loved ones of the deceased. Their job is to understand the specific laws and what is considered valid as a part of the Will. Part of that role also means understanding and handling the taxing aspects of probate, including income tax, capital and gains tax and inheritance tax, to ensure all payments to HMRC are completed accurately and efficiently.

Depending on the complexity of a specific Will or individual case, the instruction of probate solicitors can be invaluable in ensuring all incoming funds and outgoing payments are kept track of. This includes debts, liquidated assets and more. Probate solicitors assist executors with ensuring everything is up to date, including preparing the comprehensive estate accounts ahead of inheritance distribution.

How much do probate solicitors charge?

Probate solicitors charge for their services in one of two ways. Either their costs are covered as a specific percentage of the value of the estate, or an hourly set fee is charged for access to legal expertise and guidance throughout probate.

Percent of estate charges

Typically, if a probate solicitor charges based on a percentage, this will be between 1-5% of the estate’s total value, plus VAT on top. For example, if the value of an estate is £100,000, a solicitor charging 2% would receive £2,000 plus VAT for a final total of £2,400. Percentages will vary based on specific solicitors, and some may also add a set fee on top for their expert services.

Hourly rate charges

The other alternative that many solicitors choose for probate services is an hourly rate charge. This reflects how different probate processes can be more involved than others, allowing access to expertise as and when needed.

While hourly rate services define a set amount of time for expert support, this does not mean you get less for your money than percentage-based fees. In many straightforward probate cases, an hourly rate can be the more affordable option.

At Elite Law Solicitors, our probate solicitors charge on an hourly rate basis for probate services, providing a high-quality and reliable service with transparent pricing throughout the process.

If you would like to discuss your circumstances or requirements with one of our experienced probate solicitors, please call us on 0800 086 2929, email info@elitelawsolicitors.co.uk or complete our Free Online Enquiry Form to arrange a free, no-obligation discussion.

Is it worth instructing probate solicitors?

Technically, it is possible to complete probate without the use of a solicitor if you are the executor of a Will. This may be the case where tax management, estate accounts and inheritance are all straightforward with no complexities.

For example, if all assets are going to a single person as inheritance with no debts or financial issues. But for many executors, hiring a solicitor for probate provides peace of mind and ensures complicated matters are handled and managed swiftly and professionally.

Instructing appropriately experienced probate solicitors saves both time and effort by allowing a qualified legal specialist to deal with the ins and outs of the estate and processes surrounding probate. Some situations in which you may want to instruct probate solicitors include:

  • Circumstances where claims are made for an inheritance, or the validity of the Will, is questioned
  • Any complex asset arrangements, such as those currently held in trust or those required to be placed into trust
  • Situations where the estate holds debts, bankruptcies, or insolvency beyond the value of the assets themselves
  • Inheritable assets outside the UK or specific instances where the deceased lived or died outside of their home country

While this is not an exhaustive list of the reasons it may be worth instructing probate solicitors, it does cover some of the specific circumstances where an executor would benefit from expert legal support.

You may also choose to hire probate solicitors if you do not have the opportunity or means to complete all probate processes yourself within a specific time frame for any reason.

What information do probate solicitors require?

The deceased’s estate is made up of all assets and possessions that belonged solely to them at the death of death, any proceeds of insurance policies (that are not written in trust) and any gifts that have been made within the previous seven years prior to death.

Any jointly owned assets will be valued at the date of death and the percentage owned will be added to the estate value, although the asset will pass to the joint owner regardless of the Will.

Probate solicitors are required to submit accurate accounts to HMRC, which they will then analyse. Things that need to be accounted for include any executor expenses, such as travel, postage and probate fees, death certificates and bank charges. The executor or administrator should keep a record of any expenses incurred. The deceased’s assets and liabilities must also be accounted for.

Assets

Bank and Building Society

Your probate solicitors should ask them to stop all standing orders and direct debits, and send a letter of final account statements.

Employment

Your probate solicitors will write to any employer requesting final assessment of outstanding wages.

State pension, benefits or tax credits

Your probate solicitors will notify the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) of the death and claim any outstanding unclaimed benefits prior to death. With regards to pensions, you should ensure that any payments from DWP are stopped using BD8 form.

Private pensions and life insurance

All policy providers will need to be contacted, requesting a calculation of the policy amount.

Premium bonds and National Savings Certificates

Your probate solicitors will require a NS&I certificate. If you are unable to locate this then there is a service to trace the certificate. These can be left in place for up to a year after death or you can cash them in.

Share certificates

If the deceased holds any shares then the share certificates will need to be found and holding will need to be confirmed. The value of the shares should be ascertained by a broker.

Vehicle

The deceased’s vehicle will need to be valued.

Chattels

All the items in the house will need to be valued by a professional if they have a greater value than £500.

Liabilities

Household bills

Your probate solicitors will write to all the providers and request a final account statement.

Council Tax

If the deceased lived alone and their property is empty, there will be an exemption for Council Tax from the date of death up to 6 months after the Grant of Probate is issued.

Mortgage

Your probate solicitors need to write to the mortgage lender, with details of the account and the deceased. The mortgage company may want the mortgage payments to continue but mortgage will need to be settled according to the terms.

Credit card bills and loans

Your probate solicitors will require a final statement of the deceased’s account for any loans outstanding so that these can be settled.

Funeral costs

All funeral costs should be borne by the deceased. Banks will usually release funds to pay for the funeral expenses.

Once the grant has been obtained, your probate solicitors can:

  1. Collect all the assets
  2. Advertise for any unknown beneficiaries or creditors
  3. Pay the outstanding debts
  4. Distribute the remaining estate to the beneficiaries

How long do probate solicitors take to complete the process?

Probate is a complex and multi-faceted process, which can directly affect the length of time taken to reach the final distribution of inheritance.

On average, nine to twelve months is how long it takes qualified probate solicitors to complete the entire process from start to finish. This includes time preparing for your application, all administration, and final inheritance distribution to complete the probate process.

If a Will is present, the executor must first apply for a grant of probate, which can take up to 8 weeks to gather information for. Once the application is sent off, up to a further eight weeks of wait time will be required before the grant is received. From there, the complexity of the estate and any other complications factor into how quickly and easily probate can be completed by a probate solicitor.

The average probate timeline is as follows:

  • 1-8 weeks: preparation for grant of probate application
  • 3-8 weeks: probate application pending approval
  • 3-6 months: management of the estate and administration process
  • 1-6 months: distribution of inheritance and end of probate

How do I calculate the value of the estate?

Valuing the estate of the deceased is one of the first tasks an executor will have to carry out. A valuation is required before you can apply for a grant of probate, making it a vital priority at the start of the probate process. If you have instructed experienced probate solicitors, they will support you in making the calculations and sourcing information to provide an accurate estate valuation.

At its most basic, an estate valuation is a calculation of the debts and assets of the person who died. You may also need to include any non-tax-exempt gifts received from the deceased over the last seven years. Valuations are required to include everything the person owned and every active debt they held at the time of their death.

To calculate a final value for the person’s assets, you may need to source information from:

  • Building societies and banks holding accounts under the name of the deceased
  • Employers, trusts and pension providers
  • Companies in which the deceased had investments or held shares
  • Life insurance companies
  • Premium bond services
  • Family members and friends who have received non-tax-exempt gifts

To reach a final total of debts against the deceased’s name, you might need details from:

  • Utility providers for household bills, mobile phones, and any other open accounts
  • Local council in relation to the location of owned properties
  • Lenders for mortgages or loans
  • Credit card and store card companies
  • Funeral services for any debts outstanding on funeral costs
  • Agencies and private care services

In addition to cash-based assets such as pensions, bonds, or savings, you will also need to get an estimated value for the belongings of the individual who died. Assets include anything from artwork to jewellery to property and land. The final estimated value for owned assets should be based on today’s market rate and not at the price they were purchased for initially.

If an asset, such as a house, is jointly owned, the value of that asset is based on their specific share of the property. For example, if they jointly owned a house with one other person, the value would be 50% of the property in total. An executor could seek help from professional valuation services or probate solicitors to aid in the valuation process.

Once you have a complete total of all assets and all debts, you can then calculate the final overall value of the deceased’s estate. The valuation can then be used to apply for the grant of probate to continue the probate process.

Where do I find a copy of the Will?

In some circumstances, you may be unsure where to find the Will of someone who has died. In that case, the first thing to check is whether there is a certificate of deposit with the Principal Registry of the Family Division or with a commercial Will registration service like Certainty. A copy of the Will may also be held by the deceased’s solicitor, bank, or accountant. If you cannot source a Will, the probate process will be carried out as it would if no Will existed.

How do I know if the Will is valid?

For a Will to be legally valid, it needs to meet certain requirements as follows:

  • The deceased must have been over the age of 18 and of sound mind
  • The Will needs to be in writing
  • The person making the Will has signed in the presence of two witnesses
  • The two witnesses have also signed the Will

If one or more witnesses or their married partner would benefit from the Will, their claim as a beneficiary is no longer eligible. While the Will remains valid, their position as a witness means that they cannot legally receive an inheritance following that individual’s death.

While there is no legal requirement to date a Will, this does help to determine the validity of the document when it is checked. If the above conditions are not met and a will is not legally valid, the estate will be shared based on defined rules instead of the wishes expressed as part of the Will.

What happens if there is no Will?

If a person dies without a Will, then there are default rules which determine who inherits what. The deceased is described as “intestate” which may be either partially or wholly intestate.

Wholly intestate is where there is no Will or the Will has been revoked or is invalid for some reason, for example, because of marriage, lack of capacity or a failure to sign properly.

Partially intestate is where the Will fails to deal with the whole estate and assets pass outside of the Will according to intestacy rules. This could be because a beneficiary has died before the deceased and there is no reserve beneficiary or that a beneficiary has witnessed the Will invalidating their legacy.

The order of inheritance in these circumstances is:

  1. Spouse / Civil Partner
  2. Children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and so on (known as “issue”)
  3. Parents
  4. Brothers and sisters or their issue
  5. Half-brothers and sisters or their issue
  6. Grandparents
  7. Aunts and uncles or their issue
  8. Half-aunts / uncles or their issue

The question of who takes what depends on the date of death and the size of the estate and which relatives are alive at the time of death.

If a Will cannot be sourced when all other avenues have been exhausted, the next of kin or family member will be able to apply for a grant of letters of administration, following which the intestacy rules will be followed for the process of probate and inheritance.

What happens to debts owed by the deceased?

If someone dies and leaves debts behind, whether in the form of a mortgage, credit card or loan, those debts are paid off out of the estate. It is crucial to have a complete list of the debts in the name of the person who died when calculating your estate valuation. If enough money is available to pay any outstanding debts, these must be covered before any inheritance is paid. If there are not enough funds to cover the debt, the entirety of the estate will go towards payment.

What does an Executor need to do?

The role of the executor of the Will may vary depending on the complexity of the case and whether they seek outside help. Probate solicitors, for example, would be able to handle multiple tasks that fall to the executor.

The tasks and responsibilities associated with being an executor can include any of the following:

  • Registration of death
  • Sourcing and making copies of the Will
  • Planning funeral arrangements
  • Estate valuation
  • Probate application
  • Liquidation and sale of assets
  • Management and administration of finances
  • Payment of taxes
  • Distribution of inheritance

When do I need to pay inheritance tax?

As an executor, you will be required to pay any inheritance tax before a grant of probate is issued. You will need to calculate the total amount of tax owed on an estate and make a payment before you can continue with the probate process.

Payment of inheritance tax can be concerning for executors, as this can be viewed as a financial burden. But there are options to cover inheritance tax through the deceased, such as a direct payment scheme through a bank or building society. In these cases, the executor fills out an IHT423 to request payment from funds in a specific bank account.

Inheritance tax on land, business interests and certain types of shares may be eligible for payment in instalments over ten years. Finally, select banks and financial services offer a specific loan known as an executor’s loan. This covers the cost of inheritance tax, allowing for the loan repayment as soon as estate funds are available.

What are letters of administration?

Letters of administration are the alternative method for carrying out probate if a Will is either unavailable, names no executor, or is not valid. This process follows the intestacy rules, which defines the person who stands to benefit most as the individual who should apply for the grant of letters of administration. Typically, this is a spouse or civil partner, though other close relatives may take this role.

How long does it take to receive an inheritance after probate is granted?

Anything from six to nine months is the average time for the estate to be distributed once probate has been granted. This timescale varies greatly depending on the estate itself. A straightforward probate process may take less time, while an extensive and complex process will likely take longer.

probate solicitorsHow our expert probate solicitors can help

Our probate solicitors are experienced in offering a sensitive, understanding and knowledgeable service at what we know can be a very distressing and emotive time. We have a thorough knowledge of administration of estates and of the probate process and can be relied upon to guide you carefully through each step of these legal processes.

Our expert probate solicitors will:

  • Take you, as the executor / administrator, through the legal meaning of the deceased’s Will
  • Apply for the Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration
    – Complete the Probate Application
    – Complete the Inheritance Tax forms
    – Send to the Probate Registry
    – Help you swear an oath that the accounts are accurate
  • Write letters to all involved to close accounts, such as banks and utilities companies
  • Collect the estate amount
  • Pay any debts outstanding, such as mortgages, loans and credit cards
  • Claim any insurance policies taken out by the deceased
  • Make final valuation of the estate less of taxes and debts
  • Establish any Will Trusts setup in the Will through relevant appointments
  • Distribute the assets to the beneficiaries.

The role of executor or administrator, and the estate administration duties involved, can be very time-consuming and challenging as it involves following a specific process, completing complicated forms and a knowledge of both the law and taxation.

Our specialist probate solicitors can walk you through the process step-by-step and ensure that the estate is dealt with in a timely and efficient manner.

If you would like to discuss your circumstances or requirements with one of our experienced probate solicitors, please call us on 0800 086 2929, email info@elitelawsolicitors.co.uk or complete our Free Online Enquiry Form to arrange a free, no-obligation discussion.

Cost-effective probate solicitors

Our services are cost-effective and competitive, and we will always give you a clear indication of our charges. We are happy to provide one-off advice at certain points of the legal process or on particular areas of concern as they arise.

An experienced probate solicitor will have an initial consultation with you, free of charge, to discuss your situation in more detail. Once we understand your circumstances better, we can provide you with a clearer understanding of how we can help you.  We will also provide you with a price quotation and a choice of funding methods at the outset.

Get in touch with our expert probate solicitors

Our enquiry lines are open 24 hours a day, every day of the year.

Call 0800 086 2929, email info@elitelawsolicitors.co.uk or complete our Free Online Enquiry Form to arrange a free, no-obligation discussion and let one of our experienced probate solicitors explain your legal rights and options.

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    Meg Wilton

    Head of Department &
    Chartered Legal Executive
    Private Client

    “Meg Wilton has been dealing with my late father’s estate and probate. I recommend her services whole heartedly. She has been sensitive, efficient and impossible to fault. Plus the costs were far far lower than some others quoted. I’m a busy GP and it has made life a lot easier. Highly recommended.”

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