The bereavement of a close family member is something that we suffer only very occasionally, and so it’s unsurprising that few of us understand the legal process which follows, called probate.
The term probate has a specific technical meaning, but its meaning today tends to be understood in a broader sense. Probate consists of several steps, ranging from the registering of the death to the sharing of assets between beneficiaries. Along the way, debts and taxes will need to be paid, and life insurance claims will need to be made.
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Do I have to be an executor?
It might be that you’ve been named as an executor, but that you don’t feel up to the responsibility of it. Whatever the reason, you can step aside, and there’s a specific procedure for doing so. This is called ‘renunciation’. If you have a competent probate solicitor on your side, they’ll be able to talk you through what’s required.
Is probate required?
Depending on the financial affairs of the deceased, probate might not be necessary. This tends to apply when the estate being bequeathed is made up of liquid assets like cash and personal possessions. Generally speaking, probate tends to be strictly necessary only in cases where there’s a house or flat involved. Again, a probate lawyer will be able to advise you whether probate is required.
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How long does it take?
When you’re going through probate, there’s a natural tendency to want everything to be over and done with. After all, this is an emotionally testing time for everyone, and a legal process can contribute to stress, rather than dissipating it.
While every case is different, those going into the process should expect to be tied up in it for up to a year or longer. The quickest cases tend to go through in around six months. Applying for a grant might take three months while getting approval might take another three. The more complicated the case, the longer it will take.
How much will it cost?
If the estate is worth more than a given amount, you’ll need to pay a small fee for the grant of probate to be made. Other costs that should be considered include inheritance tax, which applies to estates worth more than £325,000. You can get around inheritance tax by leaving everything above this threshold to a spouse or charity. Note that you’ll still need to report the value of the estate even if it falls below the threshold.
Obviously, when it comes to legal fees, costs can escalate, especially if there’s a dispute. Make sure that you’re well advised of these costs before you become embroiled in such a dispute.