How to execute a Will after death

how to execute a Will

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.

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Avoiding conflict as joint executors

When someone dies, the person legally allowed to deal with the deceased’s estate is referred to as the executor. Often, just one will be appointed, but there can be more, and if there are, they are referred to as joint executors. It’s a role that can be challenging and time consuming.

When my mum passed away in 2007, she left my brother and I with a Will and list that contained details of her bank accounts, credit cards, insurance policies and a myriad of seemingly innocuous details. It ran to three pages and even contained instructions for her funeral (including who could and, more importantly, couldn’t attend!).

It took my brother and I a year to wind-up our mum’s estate, but we’d have been lost without her list. We’re the kind of siblings who get on and work very well together, but for others, joint executorship can result in a process that often fractures relationships.

If you’ve found yourself in the role of joint executor and fearful of the conflict that might arise, I’ve put together four guidelines that will help you through the process:

1. Keep in regular contact

Joint executors who don’t keep in regular contact risk drawing out the process and missing vital details. My brother and I would never have been able to wind-up our mum’s estate so efficiently if we hadn’t communicated regularly.

The administration of an estate requires planning and an eye for detail, but there are benefits of acting jointly with another executor; a second pair of eyes, another opinion and the emotional support of someone sharing the responsibility with you.

2. Only take out the grant of probate for one executor

The grant of probate is a legal document that gives an executor the authority to handle the deceased’s estate. If a joint executorship is in place, both executors can apply for the grant, but this doesn’t have to be the case.

If the prospect of you both being granted this responsibility feels too onerous or likely to result in conflict, it might be a better for just one person to take out the grant of probate.

3. Seek professional help

Dealing with a loved one’s estate can be stressful and emotional,  therefore seeking third party help may be the way forward if you foresee issues arising  between you and the other executor.

As joint executors, you can appoint a professional advisor (i.e. a solicitor) to deal with the estate. It will be that person’s job to act impartially, ensure all family members are kept informed and work towards a satisfactory conclusion in good time.

Before appointing a third party, make sure you conduct thorough research into their expertise, qualifications and suitability of the person that will handle the estate. Their fees should also be taken into account, and will be an expense of the estate.

4. If all else fails – remove an executor

No one wants to find themselves in this position, but if serious issues are encountered during a joint executorship, it is possible to have an executor removed.

Final thoughts

I’ve included the last option above to illustrate how vital it is that joint executors work together as best they can during the administration of an estate. At times like this, emotions will be running high, but as joint executors, you have a significant advantage – you have each other.

I wouldn’t have wanted to undertake the winding-up of my mum’s estate without the support of my brother, and if you’re lucky enough to have someone by your side during the process, grab the opportunity with both hands – it’ll ease the process and provide vital support during a very challenging time.

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