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What is probate and how can you navigate it?

The passing of a loved one is a very difficult time in your life. Getting through this sad time in the best way possible involves a lot of hard moments, but probate does not have to be as stressful as you might expect. So where should you turn if you need help with probate?

If this is your first time going through the process of probate, you probably have a lot of questions about how it works and what is likely to happen. Here, we will cover what probate is, how it works, how long it may take, and the costs you may incur. Hopefully, this will give you some peace of mind during this challenging time.

What is probate?

Probate is best described as the process related to administering the estate of the deceased. The estate in this instance includes all the assets of the person who has passed away, including property, general possessions and money – probate involves organising this.

In most cases, your loved one will have left a will behind, which will name an executor who takes control of administering the estate. One important thing to note is that only the named executor may apply for probate.

Before they begin their task, the executor of the will is required to apply for a Grant of Probate. This grants them the necessary authority to take charge of the property and assets. They will retain their executor position until probate has been completed – that is when any debts have been paid, and the inheritance has been appropriately distributed.

The process of probate

There is no blanket rule for how probate works, as each will is unique, with its own set of instructions and its own assets. However, for an executor, you will usually need to make a comprehensive list of the details of the estate. This will include debts.

Once this is done, you should apply for the Grant of Probate to ensure that you have the correct allowances. After this, you should fill out an inheritance tax return so that tax can be paid in full, before paying debts left behind by the deceased.

After all of this has been covered, you are free to distribute the estate to any beneficiaries.

If there are no issues or disputes between the executor(s) of the estate and the beneficiaries, then this process can be fairly straightforward. It is possible that, as an executor, you may also face complications with HMRC or creditors while paying outstanding debts. These are not usually insurmountable issues, though it is wise to consult further with a solicitor if things become more complicated.

The cost

No one wants to think about financial concerns while mourning, and yet you may find that this is a consideration that comes up again and again. Probate is another cost to consider, and can depend on the amount of involvement solicitors may have. This will be bespoke to each estate, as a solicitor will consider the size and complexity of it.

On average, solicitors’ fees are estimated at between 2% and 5% of the value of the estate, though this number is very flexible based on the aforementioned points.

The length of probate

Given that probate is a fairly long process, covering many different areas, how long probate takes is highly variable. This can depend on the size of the estate, and on how complex it is. However, the standard amount of time one can expect is around a year.

If the estate is overseas, international probate can be notably more complex for everyone involved. This can take up to two years.

Should disputes occur at any stage of the process, this can cause unexpected and lengthy delays. It is fairly common for a dispute to occur at some stage, either between the executor and the beneficiaries of the estate or between the executor and creditors. This is usually the cause of the worst delays and can be very upsetting for everyone involved.

The best way for this to be avoided is through clear communication at every step of the process, though it may be made more challenging if a will is unclear, or has many different beneficiaries.

What can you do without a will?

If your loved one passes away without having written a will, it is not possible to get a Grant of Probate. However, the estate can still be administered using a Grant of Administration. In this case, the estate’s administrator will decide how the assets are divided based on the rules of intestacy. In this case, only close relatives, spouses and children may inherit. This makes it far more likely for there to be disputes, and this can be a longer and more expensive process for everyone involved.

Whether or not a will has been left behind, this is a very trying time. Open communication between all parties can help you to get through the process as well as can be expected, and to honour the final wishes of your loved one.

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