Probate Solicitors

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We understand that losing a loved one is often a difficult and emotional time and the task of administering a person’s estate can be a great worry, a complicated process and time consuming. Our probate solicitors are here to help you to take the burden off your shoulders and make the process as straightforward as we can.

If you are an Executor of a will or a Personal Representative if there is no will you can make a personal application to the probate registry yourself, but is it worth the trouble as you may carry a personal liability for any losses if you get it wrong?

Executors and Personal Representatives are personally liable for any acts or omissions made by them in the course of the administration of an estate.

In most cases, it is worth engaging a probate solicitor in the estate administration as they will be able to advise you if a will is valid or not, who is able to act in the administration if there is no will, help locate a will if it is missing or lost and advise you on any legal issues that may be involved so they can be dealt with quickly.

We act for Executors, Personal Representatives and Trustees in Oxfordshire and surrounding counties.

An Executor or Personal Representative is responsible for the following:

  • Searching for the last will and testament.
  • Ascertaining the assets and liabilities of the estate.
  • Preparing a probate application and an Inheritance Tax Return, if required.
  • Obtaining the Grant of Probate or Grant of Letters of Administration, if there is no Will.
  • Collecting in the deceased’s assets.
  • Paying any debts and liabilities.
  • Paying the legacies as set out in the Will.
  • Establishing any will trusts and vesting assets in the trusts set up under the deceased’s Will.
  • Obtaining IHT clearance.
  • Distribution of the rest of the estate, called the residue.

That may all seem straightforward but there may be complicating factors to deal with during the administration, such as:

  • It is possible that there may be a challenge to the will for a variety of reasons, for example the will was not validly executed, it was made under duress or undue influence or the deceased lacked the necessary testamentary capacity when their will was executed.
  • It is important to establish the deceased’s legal domicile at the outset as that country’s succession laws will apply to the deceased’s estate.
  • Where there is no will it is essential to identify who is entitled to benefit under a deceased’s estate under the intestacy laws and who is entitled to deal with the deceased’s affairs and take out Letters of Administration, usually a spouse or next of kin. The rules are complex so it is advisable to obtain legal advice before acting in case you intermeddle in the estate, for which you may become liable. For example a cohabitee will not benefit from a deceased’s estate if there is no will.
  • If the deceased owned foreign assets (outside the jurisdiction of England and Wales), they may have left a will in that country and different laws may apply to the distribution of those assets. If so, it may be necessary for a foreign Grant of Representation to be resealed by the Probate Registry in this country.
    Calculating any Inheritance Tax due on a deceased’s estate can be complicated and professional advice should be taken as financial penalties can be imposed for late submission, or non-disclosure of all the deceased’s assets, which may make you liable for any unpaid inheritance tax.
  • Professional advice is likely to be required if the deceased owned business assets and how to transfer those to the beneficiaries and claim any business relief from inheritance tax.
  • If the deceased’s created will trusts, trustees may need appointing and assets transferred into that trust. There will be ongoing administration of the trusts, and annual tax returns and trust accounts may need preparing during the lifetime of the trust.
  • Gifts to minor beneficiaries may have to be held in trust for them until they attain their majority (18 years) before a Personal Representative can pay the legacy to them, unless the will provides a full discharge on receipt from that child’s parents or legal guardian.
  • Personal Representatives can be held personally liable if they distribute an estate prior to paying all the estate liabilities and which may only come to light after the administration has been completed or if a missing beneficiary turns up unexpectedly. Personal Representatives remain liable even after an estate has been distributed and may need advice on how best to protect themselves from that possibility.
  • If a will does not make reasonable financial provision for someone the deceased ought to have, a spouse, former spouse who received spousal maintenance which suddenly stops or a child or someone else maintained by the deceased at the time of death, a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975 may be made within 6 months of a grant of representation being made which can be costly and time-consuming to defend and may deplete the size of the estate if successful.
  • Sometimes, beneficiaries may wish to vary their entitlement under the Will if, for example they have no need for the gift and would prefer that it goes to their children. A variation of the terms of a will can be made within 2 years of the death.

The potential for getting things wrong could be costly for you personally even if you are not a beneficiary of the estate, which is why we advise that executors and Personal representatives instruct solicitors to act for them in the administration of an estate, whatever size of estate it is.

Our probate solicitors are able to advise and assist Executors and Personal Representatives in the administration of a deceased’s estate or to provide advice regarding particular aspects of estate administration. Please contact a member of our probate team for initial advice.

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