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Wills, Estates and Probate – what you need to know


Many people don’t like to talk about death and so the topic of making a Will is often avoided but whilst you can avoid making a Will, you certainly can’t avoid dying.

One big advantage in making a Will is that it’ll make things far easier for those you leave behind. Think about it this way; it’ll be hard enough for your loved ones to come to terms with you not being around anymore so why make it even harder for them by not making a Will and leaving them to make all the decisions about what to do with all of your possessions?

Let’s look at some of the legal terms used around the subject of Wills.

Estate

A person’s estate is all of their possessions and assets. It’s literally everything they own. It could be property, vehicles, shares, jewellery, furniture, money in a bank account, money under the mattress, even bitcoins and crypto-currency – everything and anything!

A Will

This is a legal document in which you set out what you want to happen to everything in your estate after you die. You don’t need to use a solicitor to write the Will for you but the Will must conform to certain legal rules to be valid so people often prefer to seek professional help when making their Will.

Intestate

When a person dies without a Will, they are said to have died Intestate.

Executors

Executors are the people named in your Will who will be legally responsible for carrying out your wishes. You can have more than one Executor. Executors can be family members or a professional person such as a solicitor or accountant. It’s worth noting that the Executor is legally and financially liable for everything in the estate so you really need to get the consent of anyone you want to appoint as your Executor.

Personal Representative

If you don’t make a Will, you can’t have Executors. Without a Will you will have died Intestate. In this case, the person who will decide what happens to your estate will usually be your closest blood relative or spouse (husband or wife) and this person will be referred to as the Administrator.  Remember, you’ll have no choice who this person is or have any control over what they do with your estate and remember that your closest blood relative will not always be the relative you may have wanted to make those decisions, this is especially relevant if you are in a relationship and unmarried, your partner will have no legal authority to administer your estate.  If you do not have any relatives, your estate would be administered by the Treasury Solicitor and the value of your estate will go to the Crown.

Grant of Probate

Once your Executors have been given Grant of Probate (after applying to The Probate Office, which is a Government department) they will be able to distribute your assets as per your Will. A Grant of Probate is usually referred to as getting ‘Probate’, which is what we mean by ‘Probate’ throughout this document.

The Grant of Probate is a document that the Executors can use to demonstrate to places like banks that they are legally entitled to have access to your account(s).

When applying for Probate it can be a good idea to pay for several copies of the Grant because there is often a need to post it off to several institutions and if there are a few copies there won’t be the need to wait for any one institution to return their copy before sending it off to somewhere else.

Grant of Letters of Administration

Very similar to Grant of Probate except this is what an Administrator needs before they can administer your estate. Again, Grant of Letters of Administration is often referred to as getting ‘Probate’. Also, similar to a Grant of Probate, it’s a good idea to get several copies.

Inheritance Tax

Abbreviated as IHT, Inheritance Tax is due if the value of an estate is above a certain level. At present, an individual’s threshold is £325,000. This amount can be added to a surviving spouse’s allocation and there are further exemptions, in certain circumstances, for someone’s primary residential property, for example.

Inheritance Tax calculations can become rather complex and many people do want to seek professional advice, after all, no one wants to pay tax if you don’t have to!

You must have submitted your Inheritance Tax calculations to HMRC before you can apply for Probate.

Here are some of the most common questions we’re asked regarding the subject of Wills.

Do I have to make a Will?

You don’t have to make a Will but in nearly all circumstances, making a Will makes things easier for the people you leave behind. In addition, a Will allows you to decide what happens to everything you own after you die. We would certainly recommend everyone makes a Will. Making a Will needn’t be complicated or expensive.

Who looks after my Estate after I’ve died?

If you’ve made a Will, the person or people you’ve named as your Executors.

If you haven’t made a will it will usually be your spouse or your closest blood relative. If you aren’t married or don’t have any relatives it would be the Treasury Solicitor.

Do you always need Probate?

Not always but usually.  Also, having Probate can make getting access to the dead person’s estate smoother as you can easily prove you have the legal authority to administer their estate.

The higher the value of an estate is then the more likely you are to need Probate. For instance, if there is property or stocks and shares involved you would almost certainly need Probate.

Financial institutions such as banks all have their own rules as to the amount of money in an account they will release without Probate.

If anything is held in joint names then this will simply pass from the dead person to the other named person without needing Probate.

Will Probate

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