Dealing with Probate and Estate Administration

Niamh McAlonan, Wills, Trusts and Probate Partner at WSP Solicitors

The implications of taking sole responsibility in dealing with Probate

When you suffer bereavement, it can be difficult to know where to start. Dealing with probate; the legal aspects and formalities involved, at an emotionally fraught time, can be extremely tough.

For those dealing with the estate administration (either executors appointed under a Will, or administrators where there is no Will) there will be a number of questions to be resolved; should I deal with everything myself, appoint a solicitor, or appoint another professional?

The role of executor carries onerous responsibilities. Probate work can be a minefield, ready to trap the unwary. It is important to consider the full implications of the role before taking on the responsibility on your own. Ultimately, executors and administrators carry personal liability for any mistakes in their dealings with the estate.

At WSP solicitors, we are increasingly seeing people begin the process themselves, and then come to us at a later date, with deadlines fast approaching, because they have run into difficulty.

There are many reasons to consider appointing a solicitor at an early stage, for instance;

  • Correct interpretation of the Will. More protective Wills are increasingly popular, especially Wills containing Will Trusts to plan around the risks of future care fees, remarriage or divorce. However, all the careful planning undertaken can then be jeopardised if the Will is incorrectly interpreted, and the estate incorrectly distributed, after death. We are increasingly seeing Will Trusts having been ignored, perhaps as a result of a lay executor or non-legal professional failing to fully appreciate the provisions of the Will, potentially leading to financial loss or adverse tax consequences at a later date.
  • It is possible to amend a Will after death, and sometimes this can lead to favourable inheritance tax results. A solicitor will be able to advise on and draw up a Deed of Variation to achieve better outcomes.
  • The process of dealing with probate is time consuming and can be complex. Returns will need to be submitted to HMRC, and any Inheritance Tax calculated and settled. This can involve various reliefs and allowances. In our experience, whilst executors are more likely to be aware of the need to consider the Inheritance Tax position, Income Tax and Capital Gains Tax are commonly overlooked. An experienced solicitor will ensure that all tax liabilities are discharged, and will often be able to take steps to minimise the amount payable.
  • Disputes amongst beneficiaries are sadly not uncommon. An independent solicitor will be able to help manage conflict.

Probate is a legal process, and it is no bad thing to have a lawyer by your side. Solicitors who specialise in probate will also have wider legal knowledge they can bring to bear if complications arise. All solicitors are regulated by the Solicitor Regulation Authority (SRA), and must carry indemnity insurance for clients’ protection. The Law Society has a Wills and Inheritance Quality Scheme (WIQS) to denote a specialism in this area. Membership of STEP (designation TEP) will also reassure you that you are dealing with a suitably qualified professional.

WSP Solicitors is an accredited member of WIQS with a dedicated experienced team on hand to assist you through the process.

For advice please contact us.

Or read further articles on Probate.

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