probate advice

Want to ensure all the estate’s debts have been paid?

 

The role of executor brings with it a whole host of legal and moral responsibilities.  Knowledge or experience of the probate process is extremely useful but for a first time executor, the pitfalls of ensuring that all debts are paid can be hazardous.

The first stage of the process is to go through all the deceased’s paperwork to pinpoint any outstanding bills, creditors, bank accounts, savings accounts and funds.  Monetary gifts or additional income can often be identified through bank statements and will need to be declared to HMRC.

Next, turn your attention to their home.  We often advise that it’s best to bring in a professional home valuation team, who can value the entire contents much more accurately and quickly than an executor.

If you’re not sure of what income they received and regular outgoings, then it may be wise to ask someone closer to the deceased who might have more information.  An excellent defence tactic is to advertise in the press for anyone who feels they may have a claim to the estate.

Of course, all this takes time and effort, so we always recommend that executors use the services of a professional probate practitioner, who can shoulder the burden of this often enormous and stressful task.

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.

Where to get Probate Advice

If you have been named as the executor in a will you have the responsibility for dealing with the assets of the deceased. It is also your duty to distribute the proceeds of the estate according to the wishes of the will. If, like many lay administrators, you have little experience in dealing with these types of matters, the administrative requirement may appear somewhat overwhelming.  probate advice.
 
For most people the initial advice in dealing with probate is to appoint a solicitor to handle matters. There are many solicitors that are experienced with this type of work. They can offer an inclusive service dealing with aspects from obtaining the Grant of Probate to the payments of taxes and liabilities. Some executors may be advised to consider handling the administration themselves. This advice is usually given if the estate is small and relatively simple in terms of the assets and beneficiaries.
 
Whichever solution you opt for the first step is to seek out some good probate advice. There are a wide variety of locations online where you can obtain advice and guidance. As with any advice, when it comes to matters involving property or money, any recommendations are best observed with a degree of caution.
 
There are some websites that have been designed to offer completely impartial advice with regard to matters of probate:
 
Government direct.gov.uk  has an informative death and bereavement section with full advice on what to do when someone dies.
The National Probate Advice Centre  offers some clear guidance in sections dedicated to property clearance, solicitors, accountants, estate agents and more.
The Citizens Advice Bureau has a section dedicated to probate advice which offers helpful information on debts, tax and benefits, jointly-owned property, inheritance tax and more.
 
For indepentdent advice, you can also our free helpline on 0800 612 6105.

ICAEW to regulate probate services?

The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) has revealed plans to regulate probate services within alternative business structures.
 
The introduction of the Legal Services Act, late in 2011, saw everyone from small businesses to supermarkets being able to provide legal advice, as well as specific probate advice to consumers, with mixed results.  
 
As a regulator, the ICAEW would be in charge of issuing licences to these types of firms, whether or not they featured trained lawyers.
 
The process to approve the institute as a regulator is expected to take up to a year and will hopefully be a step in the right direction towards regulating the will writing and probate industry as a whole. In this way, consumers will once again gain confidence that they are receiving the best advice based on their practitioner’s experience and expertise.

Solicitors probate advice in question

Shortly before his surgery in 2007, successful businessman Christopher Swain completed a £5 million management buyout of his company, unhindered by his solicitors who, it is believed, were aware of his ill health.
 
Unfortunately, Mr Swain died following the surgery and it was at this point that his four daughters were hit with a £1 million Inheritance Tax bill.
 
The girls were understandably upset after learning that should their father have not completed the management buyout prior to his death and still be in possession of the shares, they would have not been liable at all for any tax on this portion of his Estate but would have been covered entirely by business property relief.
 
In order to register their dissatisfaction at the advice given to their father by his solicitors (and presumably to try and recoup some of the cost they are now faced with), the girls have taken their case to Court.
 
Although the case is still undergoing and the firm of solicitors has yet to be found guilty or not guilty of misconduct, its seeming reluctance to advise Mr Swain not to go ahead with the buyout or indeed the apparent lack of effective estate planning is questionable.

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