The popularity of genealogy and individuals writing their own family tree continues to rise. Learning about where we’ve come from and finding out more about our relatives is both interesting and can help to give us some kind of identity and feeling of belonging.
However, a high proportion of people who set off to research their family tree give up after only a weeks or months after realising that it can take considerable time, effort and money
If starting from grass roots level, a number of probate records, certificates and Wills often need to be sought and purchased. This of course becomes even more complicated if relatives lived abroad.
There has also been a rise in the number of “membership” organisations which aim to assist those doing their own research through an expensive monthly subscription. Again, this can be costly and will take considerable time.
It’s all too easy to understand why we are seeing an increased number of individuals failing to declare their inheritance.
A lack of job security, unemployment and the rising cost of living means some people feel they are being forced to be untruthful and make the most of every penny they receive from the state.
In recent weeks, a case was reported in the press whereby a woman from Cumbria received over £19,000 as an inheritance in 2010, but failed to report it to the authorities, continuing to claim housing and Council Tax benefit.
The woman admitted to the deception and was forced to pay back the £2,500 she had wrongfully received, in addition to £155 in court costs and surcharges.
Remember that if you’re receiving state benefits, it is vital that should you receive any additional money such as an inheritance, you must declare it immediately.
An individual wrote recently to say that they had a second home in France and ask, on the basis that they had no surviving relative other than their sister, whether or not they could legitimately leave it to their friends?
Of course, owning a property abroad will always complicate the probate process, due to probate laws varying in each individual country.
However, in this instance it was agreed that the best way forward would be to include the legacy of the French house within the English Will, given that the individual was resident in England.
The only problem with this is that a delay would inevitably occur as English probate must be completed before the property could be legally dealt with in France.
There is no probate law in France which states that the property must be left to a certain individual within a Will. However, it does mean that the beneficiaries (ie the friends) must pay 60 percent Inheritance Tax on the home. Specific wording within the Will can arrange for this to be paid out of the proceeds of the English estate.
The Legal Services Board (LSB) has this week revealed proposals to develop regulations for the Will writing industry, on the back of findings which give examples of how poor advice has negatively affected many charitable legacies.
Around one third of the charities interviewed had been affected by a poorly drafted Will. Over ten percent had not received a legacy initially due to them, over one third finally received a reduced legacy and almost half had experienced undue delays, with more again having to pay for legal costs to receive anything at all.
With recent government legislation indicating that less Inheritance Tax will be paid on Estates which leave a legacy to charity, it is vital that steps are taken to ensure that those preparing a Will receive the best and most accurate advice.
Views on possible steps for regulation are being accepted until 16 July. What would you suggest? A regulated industry body? Strict legal criteria on who can provide this service? With cases being reported weekly of fraudulent probate solicitors and those offering poor advice, it seems that the suggestion to restrict probate services to law firms is extremely short sighted and dangerous, no doubt leading to higher fees and potentially a drop in the standard of specialist advice being provided.
1. Register the death
If the person has died at home or in a care home, call the doctor. If there are no suspicious circumstances, the doctor will issue you with a Medical Certificate giving the cause of death. Take this to the local Register Office, where you will be given copies of the Death Certificate, for which you should expect to pay around £5. You’ll need these in order to deal with the deceased’s bank accounts and creditors. You may prefer however, to contact a funeral director immediately after the doctor has seen the deceased. A good funeral director will collect the Medical Certificate for you and offer to take you to the Register Office if required, before going on to arrange the details of the actual funeral with you.
If the person died in hospital, a doctor will automatically provide a Medical Certificate which you will need to pick up, along with the deceased’s belongings.
2. Inform everyone
Along with family members and friends, you’ll also need to inform the deceased’s employer (if applicable), solicitor and accountant (if they had one) along with the bank or building society. This should be done as soon as possible, but you can wait for a while to inform any other creditors with whom the deceased had an outstanding agreement.
3. Look for the Will
In an ideal world, the person will have told you where to find their Will before they died. However, if you can’t find one, try contacting their solicitor, who should have a copy.
4. If there is no Will
If there seems to be no Will, then the Estate will be processed through intestacy. The deceased’s relatives or friends need to decide who will contact the Probate Office and apply for “letters of administration” which means that probate can begin.
5. Find out the Executor
Whoever has been named Executor of the Will should contact the Probate Office for a Grant of Representation and begin the probate process.
6. Start planning the funeral
If you’re using a funeral director, this person will play a key role in organising the details for you, in accordance with any wishes laid out in the Will. Make sure that they outline all costs up front as you may need to pay them before the Estate is settled.
Currently, when a person dies, Facebook’s policy states that it will in effect take over that person’s page as soon as the death is reported to the organisation. It blocks the account so that although the page remains, it cannot be added to or amended by anyone else.
Designated individuals are only able to gain access to the relevant Facebook account data (including photographs) if the deceased gave specific written instructions to this effect before they died or if police officials request it.
These restrictions have angered many individuals who are currently campaigning for specific guidelines to be introduced whereby a friend or relative of the deceased is able to act as “social media representative”, taking over and running or closing down their social media accounts including Facebook and Twitter as they see fit. In this way, vital memories in the form of photographs and records of personal thoughts can be preserved, which could help loved ones during this difficult and emotional period. Social media can act as a tool to immortalise those who have left us and as such, these keepsakes should never be lost.
Thousands of people have been intrigued by the “Heir Hunters” programme on TV. The idea of identifying potentially valuable, unclaimed Estates and the exciting chase which subsequently takes place as research is carried out to find out if any beneficiaries exists, keeps us spellbound.
But how can you find out whether or not you may be entitled to benefit from an unclaimed Estate?
The Unclaimed Estates Register, also known as the Bona Vacantia List, is available from the government’s website and allows you to search by the deceased’s surname, date of death or place of death.
If you find someone on that list to whom you feel you may be related, contact a member of the Heir Hunters Association, who will help you to make a claim on the Estate. In order to do this, you’ll need to have proof of your connection through birth, marriage or death certificates and a diagram showing the family tree.
Most individuals on the Bona Vacantia List have left Estates valued in excess of £500 so it may well be worth your while finding out if anything has been left to you.
If you are living in a house which is to be left to you in part ownership with another person, then be aware that if the other person subsequently heads for the divorce courts this could have an effect on your financial situation, not to mention rendering you potentially homeless.
To ensure that you can continue living in the property should this circumstance arise, ask for a “tenancy for life” clause to be inserted into the current owner’s Will. This means that in the future, even if the other person divorces, any claim made on the property by their ex spouse will be considered invalid.
It is not recommended that you buy the other person’s share of the property for a pre-arranged small sum if they are heading towards divorce. The court would realise why the transaction had taken place and consider it unfair, most likely invalidating the property transfer and taking the property into account during divorce proceedings.
When the time comes to put together a valuation on your loved one’s estate as part of the probate process, it is important that you choose an experienced probate clearance company to sort out the items within the deceased’s home and dispose of them appropriately, leaving their home ready to be cleaned and put on the market if required.
After you and all beneficiaries have removed items which have been left to you or which you want to keep for sentimental value, a probate clearance company will itemise, value and sell any remaining items in the deceased’s home, disposing of anything of little or no value for you.
You’ll be given a detailed, itemised valuation of all significant pieces of furniture and utilities such as a dishwasher or cooker. They may also be able to value more specific items such as artwork or jewellery, unless you’d prefer to have these valued yourself.
Once you have this final valuation, you can then move forward with the probate process, having the Inheritance Tax bill calculated and settling debts with outstanding creditors before distributing the remainder of the estate.
A probate clearance company is vital in helping the probate process to move forward as quickly as possible, removing as much stress and uncertainty as possible for those left behind.
Surprisingly; approximately two-thirds of Brits die without making a will. In these cases, instead of applying for a grant of probate the next of kin (according to intestacy law) applies for letters of administration. This can be extremely confusing; opening up a whole new vocabulary of legal terminology. If you’ve never experienced this before – it can be very daunting.
Here’s a quick guide to some terms you’re likely to come across and what they mean. It’s written in a simple, concise manner and therefore, easy to understand.
Administrator – The person who make the application for Letters of Administration.
Caveat - A simple form which can be lodged at any registry office that will prevent anyone from applying for Probate.
Deed of Variation – A legal document written after death to redistribute a person’s assets. It is normally used in cases of intestacy to mitigate inheritance tax liability, providing everyone involved agrees.
Grant of Letters of Administration – See Letters of Administration.
Intestacy – A case of intestacy or intestate death simply means someone who has passed away without a valid will.
Intestacy Law – The law that governs what happens to a person’s estate if they did not make a will. See also Rules of Intestacy.
Letters of Administration – are applied for in cases of intestacy. This is essentially the same as the executor of a will applying for Probate. The ‘letters’ are simply a legal document which give the deceased’s representative the legal authority to handle the deceased affairs. This is necessary when dealing with financial institutions for access to monies, shares and to sell property.
Partial Intestacy – is when there is a will but it does not fully dispose of the deceased's assets.
Personal Representative – The PR is the person dealing with the estate of the deceased person.
Probate Registry – A Division of the High Court permitted to give a person legal authority to deal with the assets of a deceased person.
Rules of Intestacy - determine who can apply for probate to deal with the deceased’s affairs and how the estate will be distributed. This is based on next of kin or closest blood relatives; you can find full details by clicking on the link to our intestacy chart.
You can bookmark the page for quick reference to use later on. If you need any more help, you can also call our free-phone number 0800 612 6105 – you can speak to a friendly, knowledgeable advisor right up until 10pm, 7 days a week.