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How to Manage the Probate Process

Get organised

As an executor, you will need to collect and distribute any assets, pay and recover debts, sort out all the official bits and pieces, and then distribute anything that’s leftover. Hopefully, your loved one will have a financial fact sheet or a folder with the required paperwork to help you. Although it isn’t essential.

The first step you will need to take is to contact any organisations they had a financial relationship with before they died. To do this you’ll need to source any statements and bills and also look through internet bookmarks to start compiling a list if they haven’t left one.

It’s a good idea at this stage to make sure all their assets are protected. You’ll need to check all property and vehicles are insured, protect any business interests, and make sure any income is being collected.

Notifying Organisations

There are two useful services you can use to notify multiple organisations about the death:

  • The government’s “Tell Us Once” service will notify multiple government agencies. Often the local registrar where you registered the death will do this for you.
  • You can also use the “Death Notification Service”. Be mindful that not all organisations have signed up to this service, but you can find out if it’s applicable by visiting the website. 

Don’t forget to contact pension providers, insurance companies, utilities, and any companies they had subscriptions or contracts with. You can find template letters to help make this process easier on our online service.

You will have to keep things like home insurance and energy services running until you deal with any property. But it’s still worth notifying them, especially if the property will be empty for a period of time as this could invalidate the insurance. Keep in mind that you cannot sell/transfer or rent out a deceased person’s property until you have obtained the official probate paperwork.

If any joint contracts are in place and you don’t want to continue them, be reasonably forceful that you want to close them and the company will usually comply. But, depending on the type of contract, the estate may need to pay off any remaining balances. 

Assets Freeze

Bear in mind that by contacting asset holders - like banks - all accounts will be frozen unless they are joint accounts. Direct debits & standing orders will also be cancelled, so make sure you have other arrangements in place if you need payments to continue. Keep notes on what you are doing and make sure you keep any receipts for any expenses, like probate fees or essential travel, as these can be claimed back from the estate at a later date.

Physical Items (Property, Vehicles, Etc.)

You will need to value any property and its contents. An ‘executor’s estimate’ will usually suffice. But, if there is any risk of an inheritance tax (IHT) liability or family conflict, it would be wise to have an IHT valuation carried out by a local surveyor. You may wish to have any valuable items like jewellery or antiques professionally valued, perhaps by a local auctioneer. You can obtain a quick online valuation of a car at www.webuyanycar.com, although a local garage may offer more.

Debts

It is worth noting at this point that debts are not passed on, but they must be settled by the estate before any inheritance is distributed. You’ll also need to reclaim any debts owed to the deceased.

To cover yourself from unknown creditors, place a notice in the Gazette (England & Wales). Creditors usually have 6 months to bring forward a claim. There is no formal notice period in Scotland, but it is good practice to follow the ‘6-month rule’ (get more info).

If you are concerned an estate may be insolvent (owes more than it has in assets), it is recommended to seek legal advice to make sure the debts are paid in the correct order. You can find some useful information about this here.

List the Assets

If you followed all of the steps above, you should now be able to compile a list of the deceased’s assets. 

If the entire estate is not passing to a spouse or charity and the net value is over £325,000 including property (or over £650,000 if the deceased inherited their spouse's entire estate) then the estate may be liable for inheritance tax. If the home is left to children or grandchildren, the thresholds increase.

Most banks will release funds directly to HMRC to pay any inheritance tax due. However, if the bulk of the estate is made up of things you need to sell, rather than cash in bank accounts, it is possible to arrange a payment schedule with HMRC. Follow this link to get more information on inheritance tax.

It is recommended to seek help from a solicitor if you think the estate may be over the inheritance tax threshold.

Applying for Probate (Confirmation in Scotland)

Not all estates actually require probate. So be sure to check this guide to find out if it’s applicable to your situation.

When you are sure you have compiled a full and accurate list of assets and debts, assuming it’s relevant to your situation, you’ll need to apply for probate.

In England & Wales, the process has become a lot more straightforward in 2019. You can now apply online.

In Scotland, you must fill out a C1 and C5 form. If the assets are worth less than £36,000 the local Sheriff Court is obliged to help you fill in the forms. Our online service can help you fill in the forms.

In Northern Ireland, you should make an appointment with the registry, they will help you fill out the forms. Make sure you have all the information required or they may insist a solicitor re-applies on your behalf. 

For more information, check these resources to find out how it differs in their local area: England or Wales, Scotland, or Northern Ireland

Deal with Assets & Debts

Probate gives you the authority to ingather, sell or transfer assets. Creditors will accept money from anybody.

Property can be dealt with in two ways. You can either sell it and add the money to the pot to be shared out or you can transfer the title into the names of one or more people. 

In England & Wales, you can do a transfer yourself with the HM Land Registry if the title is registered. If the title is not registered then you should contact a solicitor. 

In Scotland or NI it is strongly recommended that you contact a solicitor. But try to arrange a fixed fee for the work, otherwise it could be expensive.

Finalise the Estate

When all the money has been collected, all the debts paid, and any property or other assets dealt with, you will need to pay any income tax or capital gains tax that is due. There may also be inheritance tax due to or by HMRC if the value of the assets has changed.

When all taxes have been paid, your final job is to make a full accounting of everything and pass this, along with any money left over, to the beneficiaries named in the will. If there is no will, then the estate should be paid out by the ‘rules of intestacy’. To find out more about intestacy and who has priority of inheritance, follow this link.

It’s also worth noting that our online service has tools and resources to help with all of this, so it’s worth checking out if you’d like to make the process easier and less confusing.   

As a final word of advice, it’s a good idea to hold onto all documentation. HMRC recommend keeping estate records for 12 years, but there have been cases where documents have proved useful 40 years later.

In this guide, we have tried to cover the most common path that most people will face. However, there are plenty of additional resources on our website, within our online service, and we’re happy to talk you through anything you don’t understand via online-chat or email. 

Our guides should not be considered a substitute for sound legal advice. So, if you’ve followed this and feel you may need one, please see our guide on how to choose a solicitor. 

That said, we’ve found that, in many cases, probate can be managed without the help of a solicitor. Our online service offers tools and resources for those wishing to manage probate themselves. It guides you through what you need to do, when you need to do it and how to do it. And, it will also help you reduce legal fees, by showing you the specific tasks you’ll need legal assistance with and how much they might cost. So you don’t need to employ a solicitor for the whole process. If you’d like to learn more, then click here and get started.