Our probate lawyers understand that dealing with matters following someone’s death can be a very difficult and emotional process. Whether you are an executor or a beneficiary of a will, or you are facing probate where someone has died without a will (intestate) or you wish to contest a will, we have prepared the answers to a series of frequently asked questions (FAQ’s) that we hope will help you.
We have also created a step by step Bereavement Guide, outlining some of the practical issues that need to be considered and a video to help clarify the legal and financial processes involved and how we can support you. If you’d like to speak to someone, please use our Get in Touch form, or find a probate specialist near you.
Frequently asked questions
Q: How much will it cost to deal with the administration of my aunt's estate and do I need to instruct a solicitor?
Invariably this is one of the first questions we get asked. To determine how much the cost is likely to be, we first of all assess with you the type of service you want and need.
We will take time to understand how much help you would like and the nature of the estate involved, including the complexity of the will, assets and liabilities of the estate. We then calculate the amount of hours we believe your matter will take and provide you with a best estimate, both in terms of the work up until the probate stage and for the post grant work.
For further information see our Probate Process Infographic.
If it is unclear at the outset what will be involved, we will work on hourly rates until we can make a full assessment of the matter and then provide you with a cost estimate.
We offer three types of services:
- A Grant - only service on a fixed fee basis
- Executor support service where you choose which parts of the process you want to do yourself
- Full estate administration service.
Typical fees for full estate administration
The fee is usually between 1.75% and 2% (excluding VAT) of the gross estate. The exact cost will depend on the individual circumstances and the complexity of the estate. Also, if the matter becomes contentious or we have to enter into negotiations with HMRC costs can be higher. In addition to legal fees there will be disbursements to pay which will include probate court fees.
For further information please see our main Probate web page.
People often ask if they need a solicitor for probate and the short answer is no. Executors are able to make personal applications for probate and for smaller and less complicated estates, this may be appropriate. We would advise that executors talk to us first though, so that we can explain the probate process in more detail, enabling them to make an informed decision.
We find that a bereavement is a difficult time for families and having a lawyer to guide and support them through the process, gives them peace of mind and takes away the added burden and stress of what can be a challenging time.
For general information on bereavement please see our Bereavement Guide.
Q: My sisters are in dispute over the assets of our mother’s estate and no progress has been able to be made. What can I do to break this deadlock?
Assuming that you and your sisters are all executors of your mother’s estate, then you will need to act unanimously for most of the decisions dealing with the administration of the estate. If you have not, what is known as “intermeddled”, with the estate, i.e. taken an active role in administering the estate, you can renounce, i.e. step down from your role as executor. Instead of renouncing, another option is for power to be reserved to one/two of you and for the grant of probate, the legal document which confirms that the executor has the authority to deal with the deceased person's assets and administer his/her estate, to be taken out in one of your names so that one person effectively takes the lead.
If neither of those are an option, then you can look to the court to impose directions as to a discrete issue in order to try and break the deadlock. However, if it is simply a case that the whole administration is going to be unworkable due to the dispute between your sisters, then it is possible to apply to the court to remove an executor. This is not a decision to be made lightly however and the court will require evidence that the proper administration of the estate has been jeopardised and hostility or ill feeling alone will not be sufficient.
Seeking directions from the court or the removal of an executor are extremely expensive processes. If the court is prepared to remove an executor, it may then appoint a new executor in his/her place, or simply terminate the appointment without making a replacement, provided that leaves one other executor in place.
For further information see the following information sheets: Power reserved, What to do if you are unhappy with an executor and our Wills dispute page.
Q: My brother died leaving various digital assets - how do I deal with these?
This is now a very common way of holding assets and to be able to answer the question, we need to first understand what we mean by a “digital asset”. Simply explained, it is electronically stored content that is owned by an individual (or more precisely, any legal entity).
This is a broad description but commonly held digital assets include music, photographs, media, word files, cryptocurrency etc.
The first thing you need to do is to establish:
- What digital assets your brother held
- Where they are held
- Whether the password(s) are accessible.
It is harder than one would imagine to convince Google and Apple to allow access to recover digital assets of someone who has died, as they rely heavily on privacy laws and what they consider the deceased would have wanted.
Is there a clause in your brother's will (if he had one) that mentions his digital assets? If there is, then this will go a long way to convincing the company storing the digital assets to allow them to be released. If there is no such clause, then accessing and recovering the assets could become an issue, depending on what they are and where they are held. You may need to apply to court for the executors to be permitted access but careful consideration needs to be given to the value of the digital assets, as any application to the court would be costly.
The issues relating to privacy around cryptocurrency are not such a major concern, as it is fairly obvious that your brother would have wanted these assets to form part of his estate, as they have real financial value. The problem however is that cryptocurrency is protected by encryption and without the passwords to either the account itself, or the hardware on which they are stored, gaining access could prove impossible.
The two most common ways to store (hold) cryptocurrency are either online, in a secure wallet (known as hot storage) or offline, in a small electronic device such as a Trezor (known as cold storage).
If you have your brother's passwords then you can arrange for any crypto to be sold for flat currency, which will then be paid into the executors account or passed under the terms of your brother's will, if he left instructions to do so. Be careful if selling though as the crypto industry is unregulated and unless you are experienced in this area, you can easily be defrauded. Contact a law firm that specialises in crypto and they will assist you with the sale.
However, if you do not know the passwords and there are no instructions in the will, which is quite often the case, this can be a problem. If they are held online, you would have to make contact with the owners of the website or exchange, that controlled his secure wallet. They may have a procedure for recovering passwords but if they do not, you may have to make an application to court to have them recovered, and even then, it will depend on the country where the assets are held. Unfortunately, there is a possibility that you may never be able to access or recover the crypto. Where currency is held offline, then it is unrecoverable unless you have the passwords.
The majority of people now hold digital assets, whether they are aware of it or not, and unfortunately, as legislation has not kept up to date with the way in which these assets are being stored, recovering them is becoming a major problem.
For further information see the following article: Are you aware of your digital assets?
Q: My grandmother died without a pre-paid funeral plan. Do I need to pay for her funeral up front, or can it be paid out of her estate?
A: Following a death, the deceased’s bank should be notified immediately and provided with a copy of the death certificate. The bank will then freeze any accounts held by the deceased. However, provided there are sufficient funds available in your grandmother’s account, the bank is permitted to release funds to settle her funeral costs on production of the undertakers account to them.
For general information on bereavement, please see our Bereavement Guide.
Q: I have read that probate court fees are set to increase, can you tell me more and also explain what is involved in making a probate application?
A: Probate court fees are currently set at £155 and £215 for personal applications. However, there is proposed legislation, awaiting Royal Assent, which will change these flat fees to a sliding scale, based on the value of the deceased’s gross estate. Although the scale has not been confirmed yet, the table below sets out what we understand are the current proposals.
|Gross value of estate
||Probate court fee
|£0 - £50,000
|£50,000 - £300,000
|£300,000 - £500,000
|£500,000 - £1,000,000
|£1,000,000 - £1,600,000
|£1,600,000 - £2,000,000
The changes to the probate court fees are likely to take effect from April 2019.
Making the probate application
The probate application will involve the completion of an Inheritance Tax account in the form of an IHT205 or IHT400 depending on the value of the estate. In addition, the executors sign a Statement of Truth confirming the gross and net value of the deceased’s estate as confirmed in the Inheritance Tax account. The Statement of Truth and the deceased’s will (if there is one) are then submitted to the local Probate Registry along with the probate fee. The Probate Registry will issue the Grant of Representation in the names of the executors, which is the document that enables them to access the assets of the deceased’s estate.
Q: What is probate and how do I deal with it?
A: Probate is the legal and financial process of dealing with the estate of someone who has died - which broadly means clearing their debts and distributing their assets in accordance with their will or intestacy rules in the absence of a will. For more information please see the: probate process infographic.
Free initial telephone consultation
Our lawyers are experienced in all aspects of probate matters and are dedicated to helping minimise the stress of our clients at this difficult time.
If you would like one of us to discuss your needs and the options please complete this short probate questionnaire and we will contact you.
Alternatively, you can contact our probate lawyers on 01892 510000 (Tunbridge Wells) / 01322 623700 (Thames Gateway) or online using the get in touch form on this page.