Do I need a probate specialist?
Losing a loved one is often a dreadful experience. But however harsh or unfair it may seem, life goes on: children have to go to school, shopping has to be done, bills have to be paid and the affairs of the deceased have to be wound up.
Settling the deceased's affairs can be a complicated process. Even a straightforward estate will usually involve having to close bank accounts, claim on life insurance policies, settling the deceased's debts and distributing the estate to the lawful beneficiaries. This doesn't happen automatically, and someone has to obtain lawful authority to deal with the deceased's estate.
In England and Wales, this will mean going through a process known as probate. The procedures are different in Scotland, where the equivalent process is called confirmation.
Probate may not be required in the case of smaller estates – i.e. under £5000. In this instance, banks and other financial institutions may release funds belonging to the deceased on presentation of a death certificate. Bear in mind though, that even if probate is unnecessary, the deceased's estate must be distributed in accordance with his or her will or – if there is no will – in terms of the rules governing intestate succession.
If the deceased left a will, the person nominated in it as executor should apply to the Probate Registry for a Grant of Representation. This gives the executor legal authority to settle and distribute the deceased's estate.
If there is no will, or a will but no executor, then the process is a little more complicated. Application will have to be made by the deceased's next of kin (as defined by the law) for Letters of Administration to be granted. There may be more than one person entitled to apply for Letters of Administration.
Obtaining professional help to obtain probate and administer an estate eases the burden for the executor and should ensure that the process runs as quickly and efficiently as possible. It can also help to shield the executor or administrator from family issues that can sometimes arise over the handling and distribution of the deceased's estate.
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