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Probate & Estate Administration

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What is Probate

Probate is the process required following someone’s death by which that person’s assets are administered into the hands of their rightful beneficiaries after payment of any taxes and other liabilities which may be due from the estate of the person who has died. The length and cost of the process will depend on many factors including:

  • What assets belonged to the deceased
  • What were the liabilities of the deceased
  • Whether the deceased left a valid Will or the assets pass by the rules of Intestacy which apply when there is no Will
  • Whether the executor appointed by a Will is alive and willing to administer the estate
  • What taxes need to be paid
  • Whether there are funds available to pay taxes due
  • How many beneficiaries will receive the assets of the deceased
  • Whether there are any questions or disputes about the validity of any Will, the provision made for beneficiaries or between beneficiaries
  • The extent to which executors (or administrators where there is no Will) need to comply with statutory timescales for their own protection

What is involved

The probate process involves the following typical main stages;

  • Identifying and valuing the assets and liabilities of the deceased
  • Notifying the authorities and utilities of the death
  • Notifying and identifying beneficiaries
  • Preparing the return for Inheritance Tax (required whether or not tax is payable) and paying any tax due
  • Submitting the Will and Oath to the Court for a Grant of Probate
  • Placing statutory advertisements for creditors
  • Collecting the assets of the deceased
  • Obtaining tax discharge confirmation
  • Bankruptcy searches against beneficiaries
  • Preparation of Estate Accounts
  • Distributing assets to beneficiaries

Not all stages of the process are required in every case but we will need details of the particular circumstances to confirm what will be needed in connection with the person who has died.

Our Fees

It is difficult without some knowledge of the circumstances of the person who has died to give a meaningful estimate of how long the Probate process will take and what it might cost. We will always be willing to discuss your requirements with you and give you an estimate of what your particular matter is likely to cost and the time it is likely to take.

We base our fees on the hourly fee rate of the lawyer advising you. Your case will be allocated at an appropriate level and may have input from lawyers of different experience and status. The hourly fee rates which apply to Probate matters are as follows;

  • Partners: £250 + VAT (£300)
  • Associates and Consultants: £225 + VAT (£270)
  • Assistants: £195 +VAT (£234)

You can view the lawyer profiles of the people who may work on your matter and their status elsewhere on our website (See Our People).

The matter will be charged according to the actual time spent by us in dealing with the administration of the estate. We can tailor what we do to your requirements so if we are required to complete Inheritance Tax returns and apply for a Grant of Probate without administering the assets on the basis that the executors will do that personally then our fees will be lower than if we are required to fully administer the estate into the hands of the beneficiaries and produce detailed accounts. An estate with one property and two bank accounts being distributed to two beneficiaries with no Inheritance Tax to pay will cost less than an estate with a number of properties, a business, a share and bond portfolio with Inheritance Tax to pay being distributed to eight beneficiaries.

Fixed Fees

In some cases we can offer a fixed fee for our Probate and administration service. The fee is graduated and based on the value of the assets we are dealing with.

We will handle the full process for you. This fixed fee is for estates where:

  • There is a valid will
  • There is no more than one property
  • There are no more than four bank or building society accounts
  • There are no more than four shareholdings
  • There are up to six beneficiaries
  • There are no disputes between beneficiaries on division of assets. If disputes arise this is likely to lead to an increase in costs on the hourly basis set out above
  • There are no claims made against the estate

The fees will be fixed and calculated on the value of the gross taxable assets of the estate as follows:

  • 1.5% + VAT of the value of the estate up to £250,000
  • 1%+ VAT of the value of the estate above £250,000 up to £1,000,000
  • 0.5%+ VAT of the value of the estate above £1,000,000

Disbursements as described below will be added to the fixed fees.

The fixed fees include the transfer of assets to beneficiaries but not the sale of a house or other property which will be charged in addition (see our conveyancing fee scales for details).

Fixed fees and conveyancing fee scales do not apply where the partners of the firm are acting as the executors of the estate.

Disbursements

In addition to our fees for handling the administration of an estate for you there will be payments which must be made by us to others on your behalf called “Disbursements”. We will give you details of the likely Disbursements at the outset of a matter as they are sometimes based on the value of the assets being administered. Land Registry Fees would be an example of a fee scale based on the value of property and it is proposed that Probate Court fees payable on the application for a Grant of Probate (or Letters of Administration where there is no Will) will be based on the value of the assets of the person who has died from March 2019. Some examples of typical Disbursements are:

  • Probate Court Fee £155 if the estate is above £5,000 (there is no fee for estates below that figure) plus £0.50 per official copy
  • Swearing the Probate Oath fee £7 + £2 for each Codicil to a Will (payable per executor or administrator)
  • Statutory Advertisements in The London Gazette and a local newspaper to protect executors from unknown creditors.
    • The London Gazette s.27 Trustee Act Notice fee of £69.50 plus VAT, total £83.40.
    • Local newspaper (this varies from region to region) approximately £45 + VAT
  • Bankruptcy Search at the Land Charges Department (£2 per name searched)

How long does this take

The time taken to administer an estate of someone who has died depends on the nature and extent of the assets of that person and in particular whether tax is payable. As a guide HM Revenue and Customs requires that the Inheritance Tax return and the Inheritance Tax in an estate will be filed and paid within six months of the end of the month in which the person died. Generally we would expect to be filing the Inheritance Tax return, paying the tax and applying to the Court for a Grant of Probate in an estate which does not involve a dispute or a business approximately three months from being instructed.

To protect executors and administrators for personal liability for the debts of the person who has died it is best practice to place advertisements for creditors in the London Gazette and (where there is a property) in a newspaper circulating in the area of that property. To gain protection from these statutory advertisements two months must expire from the date of the advertisement before the assets are distributed.

There are other statutory time periods which may need to expire before an estate is distributed. For example claims can be made against the estate of someone who has died by certain classes of people up to six months from the date of the Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration. That period plus the time for service of a claim sometimes needs to expire before an estate will be administered if there is a risk of a claim. Personal Representatives (executors and administrators) risk personal liability if the assets of the estate are distributed before these statutory time periods have expired so it is sometimes more than a year before an estate is distributed.

Where tax is payable on estate assets the time taken to finalise the administration will depend on how long HMRC takes to agree the tax assessment.

Estates are often wound up and distributed in a short period of time for example three or four months but this will depend on the willingness of the personal representatives to distribute assets without taking the precaution of placing the statutory advertisements and letting other statutory timescales expire.

What is the benefit of a professional service

We will look after the whole process for you and ensure that everything which needs to be settled is concluded with the assets of the person who has died being legally paid or transferred to those who are entitled to the estate. The assets and liabilities will be fully accounted for with a set of detailed accounts provided to the personal representatives so that they are available to beneficiaries and any other authority which needs to scrutinise the actions of those who administered the estate. These accounts are important because they are a record of acquisition values for future tax purposes.

Calculating and claiming relief from Inheritance tax is complex and wrongly claiming relief or the Inheritance Tax Nil Rate Band and the new Residence Nil Rate Band can lead to tax penalties which may be payable personally by the personal representatives where they have not made proper enquiries.

Personal Representatives need to take steps to protect themselves against the risk of claims against an estate or wrong distribution of assets to someone who is not entitled for example to a bankrupt beneficiary. Personal liability follows problems like that and to avoid those unwelcome consequences professional advice should be taken.

Our service will ensure that appropriate protections are in place for those administering estates, the correct taxes are paid and where possible mitigated by claims for tax relief and a full account can be given to those entitled to the estate to prove that the assets of the person who has died have been administered as that person intended and in accordance with the law.

We would like to help you so we welcome your general enquiries.

Contact

Andrew Morris (Partner) amorris@okells-law.co.uk
Elspeth Winny (Constultant) ewinny@okells-law.co.uk
Jo Meek (Assistant Solicitor) jmeek@okells-law.co.uk

01989 762009 Ross-on-Wye
and
01594 842242 Lydney

What to do when someone dies


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