When my dad died, we knew he had a Will but I had no idea he’d appointed me as one of his executors. He’d occasionally tell me I’d need to help him with “his papers”, but I hadn’t really given it much thought at the time.
Not long after his death, I found myself staring at a table full of documents with absolutely no idea where to start. If you’ve been appointed an executor, you’ll know the feeling well. Unless you’ve done it before, there’s no manual to turn to, and no course you can take that will help you deal with this complex, emotional process.
Thankfully, the steps required to execute a Will are relatively straightforward once broken down and achievable with the right support.
What is probate?
Probate is the term used to describe the process of dealing with someone’s estate and involves finding out about their assets, debts and value of the estate.
Executors are responsible for probate and administering the Will, but the task is sometimes passed onto a solicitor. You may be tempted to do just that, but before investing in such services, consider whether it might be better financially to complete the forms yourself and simply pay a solicitor to check them over.
Following my dad’s death, I decided to jump in and sort the papers myself. It took me five days and when we sat down with the solicitor, I handed him a rough spreadsheet listing everything. “Great job,” he said. “I can’t believe you did all this in five days”.
What is a grant of representation?
As executor (or joint executor), the job of probate will fall on your shoulders. For some, probate can be relatively straightforward, but the task will become more complex if a grant of representation is required.
This is the official document that confirms you’re allowed to administer and distribute the deceased’s assets and may be requested by banks before they release any funds.
However, grants of representation aren’t always required. If the estate is of low value (usually worth less than £5,000) and doesn’t include property, land or shares, the probate can be undertaken without the grant.
How do you value someone’s estate?
The process of valuing someone’s estate starts by identifying their assets. These may include bank accounts, properties, belongings, investments and vehicles, but you’ll also need to look for any pensions and life insurance policies.
An estate agent is best placed to value any remaining property, while the providers of other financial assets will be able to give you a valuation after death.
Although you may stumble upon the odd surprise, it’s also important to check for debts, credit card balances, loans and mortgages. The cost of the funeral can also be deducted from the estate, so be sure to make a note of all the expenses you incur arranging the funeral.
What about inheritance tax?
Form filling is very difficult to avoid during probate, and even if there’s no tax owed, you’ll probably still have to complete an inheritance tax form.
If the estate you’re dealing with doesn’t incur inheritance tax, it will be declared an ‘excepted estate’. This will be down to one or a combination of the following:
- the deceased lived permanently abroad and died abroad with UK assets below £150,000;
- the estate is of low value and sits below the UK inheritance tax threshold;
- the deceased left everything to a spouse, civil partner or charity.
If the estate is excepted, you can complete a shorter form, but if there is any tax owed at all, you’ll need to opt for the larger version – a task which benefits significantly from professional help.
In addition to the inheritance tax form, you’ll also need to complete a probate form (PA1), which can be found on the HM Court’s website.
What happens next and how long will it take?
When all the forms have been completed, they are sent to the Probate Registry, and as executor, you’ll be required to attend a ‘probate venue’ to swear an oath which will accompany the forms. This is usually a solicitor’s office and there will be charge to pay. The charge is at the solicitor’s discretion and anywhere between £5-10 is not unusual.
The Probate Registry may have queries on the forms submitted which you (or your solicitor) will need to deal with. Once the Probate Registry are satisfied with everything, a grant of representation will be sent out. If you have several banks and other institutions to notify, it’s a good idea to request multiple copies when you submit your application.
It’s important to remember that when you’re administering an estate, all debts and expenses must be settled before the estate can be distributed.
As dad’s executor, I worked with his solicitor to obtain figures and values at the date of death. The solicitor applied for probate and we achieved this in about six months, enabling us to wind up dad’s estate (including a property sale) in about eighteen months.
I regret not having a proper discussion with dad about his estate, but suspect he wouldn’t have felt comfortable discussing this with me in detail. It’s something I urge others to do, though; you never know what’s around the corner – so try and have the conversation before it’s too late.