Tony Crocker

Tony Crocker is Director of IWC Estate Planning & Management Ltd. With over 15 years’ experience, he is knowledgeable and proficient in all matters regarding Probate, Will writing, Estate Planning and Inheritance tax avoidance. In addition, he has a wealth of experience in dealing with estate settlements and issues with the capital taxes office in the event of bereavement. As a member of the Society of Will Writers & Estate Planning Practitioners, he is widely respected within the field, having helped many people at difficult points in their lives through complex probate and tax issues. Tony Crocker

Influencing the content of a Will

It can be difficult to accept the eccentricities of those you love and it can often come as a shock at the end of a person’s life, to realise that they have chosen to leave the bulk of their estate to another person, a charity or even a beloved pet.
 
If you are convinced that this decision is not within the usual nature of the person, then your first action should be to discuss it with the individual, bearing in mind that this could of course open up a whole can of worms and could very well lead to conflict.
 
Should you feel, during the course of the discussion, that the individual does not seem to be of sound mind then you can of course seek a medical opinion.
 
If your loved one is firm in their resolution and is judged to be of sound mind, then there is little you can do until after their death, when you can take steps to legally contest the Will.
 

How much do I have to pay for probate?

Recent research by Saga has found that probate fees charged by solicitors and financial advisors vary widely, due to the common practice of naming themselves as executor whilst drawing up the individual’s will.
 
In this way, the solicitor or financial advisor can then charge up to 5% of the value of the person’s final estate – often earning themselves several thousand pounds in the process.
 
Although it is always advisable to seek the help of a probate specialist, executors should certainly shop around for probate services – particularly if the contents of the estate are relatively small or straightforward. Remember that you do not have to use the services of the person who drafted the will.
 
It is not necessary either, to use a solicitor or a financial advisor to undertake the probate process. Do some online research and seek testimonials or ask around and see which probate practitioners have provided an excellent service and real value for money.

Digital legacies – what are they?

The term “digital legacy” has recently come to light following a well publicised battle by Hollywood actor Bruce Willis to include the alleged thousands of dollars’ worth of iTunes material he has collected, as part of his Will.
 
In the good old days, record collections – whether valuable or not, were often left to specific beneficiaries. However, we now of course tend not to have vinyl in our collection, but sound files which we download from sites including iTunes.
 
However, what many people still fail to appreciate is that although we have spent often a considerable amount of money on purchasing this music or these films online, the material still doesn’t belong to us. Apple in particular states that although we have paid our money, they are still “on loan” to us and therefore, we cannot pass the material on to our beneficiaries, in the event of our death.
 
This public battle is certain to encourage changes in probate law both in the UK and the US, as surely, these sites cannot continue to legitimately and deliberately confuse the term “purchase” with its actual meaning in context here: “pay to borrow”. This in turn may lead to the birth of the concept “digital legacy”.

Scottish probate explained

With Scottish probate, if the deceased’s estate is valued over £30,000 at the time of their death, then a Grant of Confirmation usually needs to be applied for in order for the executor of the will to be able to carry out the probate process, much in the way that a Grant of Probate does in England.
 
Inheritance Tax laws still apply here, and so the estate must still be valued in order for the final tax to be calculated.
 
Executors have the role of valuing the estate, settling debts, paying tax and distributing the remainder of the assets in accordance with the deceased’s wishes as detailed in their will. However, distribution cannot take place until at least six months have passed after the death, to allow anyone with a potential claim on the estate to come forward.
 
Where no will was made, the next of kin must, similar to English law, apply for Confirmation from the Sherriff Court to allow them to act as executor. Details of the distribution are to be followed according to The Succession Act 1964. In addition however, the executor must also obtain a bond of caution from an insurance company, to guarantee that they will distribute the assets in accordance with The Succession Act.

Dementia – how one woman controlled her care

The press recently highlighted how one woman dealt with the issue of the onset of early dementia, by leaving detailed instructions to her family about how she wanted to be looked after – in her diary.
 
Now in a care home, the woman was diagnosed with the disease four years ago, at the age of 39 – around 30 years at least before one would expect a diagnosis. She had been warned in her 20s however, that the hereditary gene defect she carried, could trigger the condition at an early age.
 
Once diagnosed, she began writing of her fears for the future, stating that in the later stages, she wanted to be taken to a specialist unit or hospice. She also included details of how she wanted her funeral ceremony to be performed.
 
It was only when her husband was packing up her belongings, ready to move into the care home, that he stumbled across the diaries and although placing his wife into a home was an unbearable decision, he was comforted with the thought that it was what she wanted.
 
We have no knowledge of when our life as we know it will end, and no guarantee that we will continue to remain healthy and mentally sound well into our retirement. For this reason, it is vital that our thoughts and wishes are formally documented so that our loved ones can care for us in sickness and death. Although this brave woman chose to write her thoughts in a diary, a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) ensures that our medical care and financial obligations are taken care of effectively, should the worst happen.

Organising a probate valuation

If you are the executor of an estate, it is your responsibility to ensure that all the deceased’s assets are accurately valued, in order for inheritance tax to be calculated and applied.
 
Before a Grant of Probate can be issued, you must ensure that you have a house contents valuation for probate if any of the assets contained within are likely to be valued at over £500 individually. An itemised list must be prepared in this instance.
 
Within the valuation, items such as furniture, jewellery, vehicles and antiques, as well as any belongings which were gifted within the last seven years, should be included. The end valuation will give the realistic market price of the goods at the time of death, rather than the insurance valuation figure.
 
Although some lower priced items can be easily valued through a little research, more specialist or valuable pieces may require the assistance of a relevant valuation expert.
 
It is important to ensure that the valuation is as realistic as possible, as over-valuing items for probate can lead to an investigation and possibly a fine by HMRC.

Navigating Probate Advice

A Google search with the keywords 'Probate Advice' will return links to many millions of pages that have been set up by banks, solicitors and probate practitioners.  To help you wade through this plethora of information and uncover the most reliable sources, here are a few quick tips.
 
Have a clear agenda
If you have been tasked with being an executor, or have a relative that has passed away, make a list of all of the information that you require.  It helps to start by writing a list of questions, how long will it take? How much will it cost? What’s included in solicitors fees? What are my legal duties? 

Find an A-Z of legal terms
You will come across many terms you’ve never heard of, this can be very daunting for a lay person. So, before you start, it helps to find a reliable glossary for quick reference.   Use our probate glossary
 
Use official sources for guidance
There are a number of agencies whose job it is to provide advice as part of a public service.  Use official government websites as a start point and you’ll find impartial advice on how to manage all aspects of the process. This link is a great starting point for getting to grips with the basics:
 
Be sure of credibility
Some of the best resources are in fact probate practitioner websites. Before you start to read or make notes, make sure they are qualified so you can trust in the credibility of the information. Check they are members of the Society of Will Writers and Estate Planning Practitioners. While you may trust a local firm of solicitors; don’t forget that they may not have the specialist knowledge that an independent practitioner has.
 
Never pay for advice
There are many services which will ask for money up-front, even before any advice has been given. There is no need to pay for information. We operate a free probate advice line – call 0800 612 6105. Lines are open until 10pm, 7 days a week.

Elements that make up Probate Costs

The application for the Grant of Probate is a requirement on any estate which is valued over £5,000. The basic fee, payable to HM Courts & Tribunals Service is £105. Special applications for a duplicate, second or subsequent grant will cost £20. This is the same price as entering a Caveat, or depositing a will for safe custody with the probate registry.
 
As with everything else, the costs involved in probate have risen. The most recent revision occurred in April 2011, based on the rate of inflation there was an increase of around 20%.  Further information on probate costs can be obtained from the directgov website. This breakdown is very useful for anyone trying to wade through an itemised bill from a solicitor, or bank.
 
Although the costs of these elements, which are paid to the probate registry, are generally quite basic, the process involved is time consuming. This will drive prices up, particularly if you are using a solicitor and paying an hourly rate.
 
Hourly charges range from £100 to around £350, plus VAT.  A Legal Services Board report in July 2011 revealed that the average UK rate was £177 per hour. The average length of time billed for estate administration was 25 hours, which totals £5310 inc. VAT @ 20%.
 
This is relatively cheap compared with banks and solicitors who charge a fee based on the estate value. This is quoted as a percentage and varies between 1% (Saga), up to 4.5% (Barclays). It is considered an unfair way of pricing as the amount the estate is worth does not bear much relevance as to the amount of work involved.
 
If you would like to get further information on probate costs you can call us free on 0800 612 6105. Lines are open until 10pm, 7 days a week.

Family Trees and Unclaimed Estates

There is a vast fortune of wealth sitting in the coffers of the treasury waiting to be claimed. An estimated £15bn in total of inheritance exists for which no beneficiary has been found.  
 
Given the size of the fortune involved there is no surprise in the fact that a huge industry has grown up around the issue of unclaimed estates with many dedicated legal firms focussing solely on the function of tracing the lineage for some of this wealth. It is a topic which has given rise to a popular daytime television programme and been the subject of innumerable tabloid column inches.
 
Heir-hunters invest in very expensive and sophisticated search techniques, in the hope of finding the rightful heirs to the estate. Each time details of a new unclaimed estate are published, there’s a frenzy of activity and a race begins to trace the deceased’s relatives, before anyone once else. This is because they are paid a percentage of the estate value for their trouble. If they don’t get their first, they don’t get paid.  
 
With all of this interest and publicity; you might be forgiven for thinking that there is little point developing your own family tree, with the vague hope of finding a connection to a long lost relative.   This is not necessarily the case, last year alone the treasury absorbed £43 million from unclaimed inheritances.  

Search the list
If you think there’s a chance you could be heir to an estate and have basic information available such as the deceased’s name and place of death – you can perform your own search of the Bona Vacantia (Ownerless Goods List):
 
Find your family tree
In many cases, long lost heirs come from large, displaced families. When contacted, many are not even aware of the existence of their benefactor. While this may seem unusual and perhaps a little far-fetched, it is more common than you might think. 
 
For example, imagine your grandfather had a brother who he lost contact with. He never mentioned his brother because they’d not been a part of each-others’ lives for so long. Let’s say that your ‘great uncle’ married and moved to the other side of the country after the war. They weren’t blessed with any children of their own and both passed away, without heirs. Your grandfather would be the closest living relative of the deceased and according to the laws of intestacy, would be the rightful heir of the estate. This right then passes to his children and their children.
 
Genealogical research, often presents people with whole new branches of their family tree. These discoveries can result in reconnections with people and long lost property too.

Powers Granted in Letters of Administration

Powers Granted in Letters of Administration

There are a number of reasons in cases of probate for individuals to seek Letters of Administration.  A Grant of Letters of Administration may be requested by the next-of-kin in a case where the deceased has died intestate (without a will). This Grant can also be applied for if the executor named in the will has passed away, or is unwilling or unable to act as executor.
 
Whatever the circumstances, by the Grant of Letters of Administration the court officially appoints an administrator to handle the deceased estate. It gives the person who receives this appointment exactly the same powers as an executor that has been named in a will.
 
Through the Grant of Letters of Administration an individual can sell, mortgage, or otherwise dispose of the assets of the deceased.  An administrator cannot make any profit out of the estate for himself, other than what he might obtain as a beneficiary.
 
Up to 4 administrators may be appointed to execute an estate and in addition to the powers they are given there are certain duties that they have to perform. These include securing all assets and taking possession of these where ever possible. An administrator should also take out insurance to protect the value of any assets.
 
If there are any estate liabilities and taxes, such as inheritance tax, the administrator needs to arrange for these to be paid. When all of the debts on an estate have been settled, the administrator must distribute the estate in accordance with the laws of intestacy.
 
If you have any questions with regards to Letters of Administration call our free probate advice line on 0800 612 6105, open until 10pm, 7 days a week.

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