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Probate and estate administration

Dealing with the legal and financial formalities following a death can be complicated and time consuming; therefore it helps to have experienced probate practitioners sharing the workload and responsibility.

Our probate team has a wealth of experience in dealing with a person’s affairs following a death. We can take routine tasks off your hands and guide you through some of the more complex issues.

How we can help

Our team is spread across both our London and Tunbridge Wells offices and comprises partners, assistant solicitors, probate managers, chartered legal executives, paralegals and dedicated secretaries.

This enables us to staff matters with the appropriate level of expertise to ensure an efficient and cost effective service on all matters from the simplest to the most complicated estates.

While a large part of our work in this area is helping and guiding Personal Representatives through the administration process, we can also help when matters become disputed. Our team of specialist litigators can take on disputes as and when they arise or escalate, and whether purely for that aspect or in tandem with the wider administration of the estate.

Our probate and estate administration team can advise on:

  • Administering an estate
  • International probate
  • Deeds of variation
  • Specialist inheritance tax advice
  • Business Property Relief (BPR)
  • Agricultural Property Relief (APR)
  • Conditional exemption

There can be occasions where disputes arise during the course of administering an estate. Should that be the case then we are well placed to deal with these, involving the appropriate expertise within the team to assist either on an ad hoc basis or to take over the running of a matter. Find out more about our will disputes team.


Meet the team

Our related experience

How we made a difference

Frequently asked questions

You have a duty to act diligently and in the best interest of the estate and the Beneficiaries.

Although we take on most of the administrative work and provide advice throughout the process, you will be making the key decisions, for example whether to accept an offer on the house, when to distribute and how much, and whether to distribute assets instead of cash.

We will normally ask you to distribute and dispose of the household goods and personal possessions. At the end of the Administration financial accounts of the Administration (‘Estate Accounts’) are usually prepared for the “PRs” or for “you” to sign. Apart from acting as a useful record of the estate such accounts help show the Beneficiaries that you have discharged your duties properly.

You have three options:-

  1. Take up the appointment. You should be aware that once you have taken up the appointment you cannot retire from it until the Administration is complete. There are exceptional circumstances such as severe ill health which would allow you to retire before then. Additionally if the Will or intestacy creates on-going trusts, you will become a trustee of that trust (unless the Will directs otherwise) and so your obligations will continue beyond the administration period. You can retire as a trustee, provided there are enough trustees who are continuing, or if not, if you are replaced by a suitable person.
  2. Do not take up the appointment – “renounce probate”. You may not then interfere in the Administration and you will have no say in any decisions taken.
  3. Retain the option to join in at a later date – have “power reserved”. In practice joining in later causes additional work and so normally it is only done when absolutely necessary for example on the death of one of the other PRs.

No. The debts of the deceased are met from the deceased’s assets.

If however you distribute assets before all debts have been paid, or ascertained, you may find yourself liable for debts which you later discover. This will be so if you have not retained enough money to meet those debts. You can protect yourself from unknown creditors by placing notices in a prescribed form and in prescribed publications. This is sensible when you are not familiar with the deceased’s financial affairs.

If the assets of the estate are insufficient to meet the debts, the estate is insolvent. A special process needs to be followed in winding up an insolvent estate, but to the extent that there are insufficient assets to meet all the debts in full any remaining unpaid debts are in effect written off. It is vital that PRs approach the administration in a cautious manner in the case of an insolvent estate and take professional advice as appropriate.

What happens to foreign assets, and who is ultimately responsible for them will depend on a number of factors, including the relevant foreign law. This is a specialist area, but one in which we have the necessary expertise to advise.

Even where there are no assets in the UK, but the PRs are based in the UK we can act for PRs in a co-ordinating capacity by acting as a central reference point for the PRs, co-ordinating advice from advisers in foreign jurisdictions, and ensuring that the PRs’ UK legal and fiscal obligations are satisfied.

If the will is specific about what you are to receive, for example a fixed sum of money or a particular possession, then provided the deceased left enough money, or the possession in question, you can expect to receive that sum or possession.

If the deceased no longer owns the possession then you are not entitled to a substitute, or the cash equivalent. You will receive nothing.

If there are insufficient assets in the estate, then your cash gift will be reduced proportionately with the other cash gifts.

If you are to receive a prescribed share of the estate, for example “one half of”, then you are what is called a Residuary Beneficiary. Your share will be of “Residue” that is to say what is left after all tax, debts, specific gifts and administration costs have been taken. How much you will receive will depend of course on the value of the assets, and the extent of the liabilities, gifts, tax, and costs.

The entitlement of beneficiaries who take a share is subject to the interests of those left a specified sum of money or item. It is possible therefore that the former will receive nothing while the latter receive their entitlement in full.

At the stage of obtaining the grant it should be possible to say with a fair degree of accuracy what your entitlement might be, but it will not be possible to say exactly how much you will get until the administration is complete.

As a Residuary Beneficiary, you should expect to see the estate accounts which will give you a full picture of the administration of the estate and show how your entitlement has been calculated.

Usually gifts of possessions and of fixed amounts of cash can be made as soon as the PRs have obtained a Grant and have control of enough cash. In a straightforward case this should be between 6 and 9 months after the death.

If you are entitled to a share of the estate then you could normally expect an interim distribution at any time after the liabilities and fixed legacies of the estate have been paid. A final distribution will only be made on completion of the Administration which at best will be shortly within a year of the death.

There are no hard and fast rules, and in complex estates it may take much longer.

If you are entitled to a fixed amount of cash, you are entitled to interest on that amount from the first anniversary of the death.

It is usual for all taxes to have been paid by the PRs. It is possible you will have an income tax liability on some of what you receive. If that is the case the PRs should provide you with the information necessary for you to deal with this.

The exact tax treatment of distributions and of gifts made by the deceased before he or she died is a complex area and will differ in each estate. We will advise you as necessary in each case.

If you are unable to obtain satisfactory explanations for the way the estate is being administered then you can apply to the court if necessary to have the PRs removed and others appointed in their place. You can also apply to the court for an order that the PRs prepare full accounts of the estate.

Such a court application should be a last resort only. You should always try to resolve your concerns between you; indeed the court will expect you to do so and you could be liable for costs if you do not talk first to the PRs and their solicitors.

It is possible that a disappointed friend or member of the family may seek to challenge the Will. This might be because they allege the Will itself is invalid, or wrongly worded so that it does not correctly reflect the wishes of the deceased, or that the deceased should have made provision for someone left out of the will.

If you think there may be a dispute about the Will or you believe there are grounds for challenging the Will, please let us know immediately. We will be able to advise you and help you take any immediate action necessary to protect your position, and to act on your behalf in defending or bringing a claim.

The trustees of the Trust will be responsible for ensuring that the Trust assets are properly dealt with following the death of a beneficiary of the Trust. However it is important for the PRs to liaise with the trustees, for a number of reasons: there may be undistributed benefit still due to the deceased beneficiary; the will may have a bearing on the how the Trust fund is to be distributed; and the value of the Trust may have to be taken into account in calculating the IHT due on the death

Estate Accounts act as a record of the Administration of an estate. The exact form of the Accounts will vary depending on the size and complexity of the estate. Usually they start with a snapshot of the deceased’s assets and liabilities with values as at the date of death.

The main body of the Accounts show movements of cash and assets during the Administration period. A final section shows the entitlement of the Residuary Beneficiaries and shows any distributions made during the Administration.

Apart from standing as an accurate record of the Administration of the estate, they demonstrate to both PRs and Beneficiaries that the estate has been properly administered.

We aim to obtain a Grant within 6 to 9 months of the death, and to begin making distributions within a year. It is unusual to complete the process in much less than a year. Large and complicated estates can take longer. We will discuss likely timescales with you when we know the assets and liabilities comprised in the estate.

Exactly how long it will take will depend on how quickly information is provided to us and what sort of assets are included in the estate.

We generally find legal fees for administering an estate work out between 1% and 4% of the gross value. A more accurate figure can be given when the full extent of the assets and liabilities are known.

Find out more about our costs  and what is included.

Contact us

If you have a question or need advice, please let us know how we can help.