10 March, 2013
People are often surprised at how long it can take to finalise someone's financial affairs after death. However, if you consider that it has taken someone a lifetime to accumulate, it is perhaps understandable that it will take time to deal with everything correctly.
Probate is the term used to describe the process of sorting out someone's affairs after they have died. It involves the executors (where someone has left a will) or administrators (where there is no will) gathering together information about finances and assets, dealing with tax, both income tax and inheritance tax, collecting in or disposing of those assets and then distributing the estate to the people entitled to inherit (the beneficiaries).
Whilst this may sound simple on paper, in reality an executor can encounter many situations which delay the winding up of the estate. Some common issues include locating the Will, finding beneficiaries named in the Will, clearing and selling a property, missing share certificates or policy documents, obtaining valuations of assets, dealing with questions and queries raised by the Revenue and raising funds to pay inheritance tax. In more complex cases, it could be that there are problems with the wording of the Will making it difficult to be sure who is to receive what or there may be questions raised about whether the Will is valid or whether it makes enough provision for dependent relatives. Until these issues are resolved, the estate cannot be wound up.
Executors are also obliged to identify and settle debts and liabilities before money is distributed to beneficiaries. One way that executors can ensure that they have traced all debts is to place special notices in the press to advertise for creditors. Placing these notices protects the executors from personal liability if they distribute the estate and a debt later comes to light. However, the executors must give at least two months for creditors to come forward which can cause delay.
Most estates can be dealt with within 12 months and often payments can be made to beneficiaries much sooner than that. If executors take timely advice or employ a professional to assist them it can avoid the problems which cause delay and give peace of mind for everyone involved.
If you are involved in the administration of the estate and need some practical advice or assistance, please contact our Probate team on 01772 220022.
Appointments can be made for our Preston, Blackburn, Chorley and Accrington offices.