A list will help you manage the estate. For each asset of the estate, you need to confirm its value as at the date of death, include it in the Inheritance Tax return and ultimately you will need to sell it or transfer it to a beneficiary. All liabilities need to be identified and paid. A good list will help you to keep track of where you’re up to and make sure that you’ve dealt with everything.
A specialist solicitor can take on the burden of administering the estate. A good estate agent will help you deal with an empty property – they can organise garden maintenance, draining down the water supply and minor repairs. A good auctioneer will value the contents, arrange clearance and sell what they can. So it’s always worth asking if you need to do it yourself and whether you might be better off involving professionals.
Remember that you are responsible for all the physical assets – once you have identified them, you need to know where they are and keep them insured. Items such as cars and jewellery can be delivered to the relevant beneficiaries (provided there are enough assets in the estate to meet its liabilities) or sold without having to wait for the grant of probate.
The probate process is about dealing with the property and assets of the deceased. It can’t help with deciding who should have assets of sentimental value. It is the job of the executors to arrange the funeral but there is no obligation on them to consult family members or to give weight to one view over another.
The job of the executors or administrators is to deal with the estate in accordance with the law – either following the Will or, if there is no Will, the intestacy rules. Unless the Will specifically prescribes it, there is no space for the executors to exercise their own discretion as to who gets what, however unreasonable this may seem. The beneficiaries may agree to deal with the estate differently and if they are all of age this can be done by deed of variation.
Anything the deceased may have said or written which contradicts the Will is of no importance unless it was signed by the deceased and witnessed by two people.
The default position is that any individual asset must be sold as soon as possible; there can only be movement from that position if all the beneficiaries and executors agree. Executors have to act unanimously.
…but without the grant you can’t sell the assets to raise funds. Where the Inheritance tax relates to property, you can pay by 10 annual instalments and only the first one needs to be paid before probate. Otherwise, you can usually use cash deposits at banks to pay the Inheritance tax even before you’ve obtained the grant.
Most institutions take at least two weeks to reply to enquiries. The Probate Registry normally take 6 weeks to issue a grant and if HMRC are involved it will be another three weeks. So even in a simple estate it will usually be 3-4 months from the date of death before a grant is obtained and then it will take another 2-3 months to deal with everything. It may be useful to warn beneficiaries that funds will not be available immediately.
If there is a claim against the estate or a dispute between beneficiaries, the role of the executor or administrator is to let the people who are affected fight it out or come to an agreement, and then to distribute the estate in accordance with that agreement (if it is recorded by deed of variation or court order). It is not the role of the executor to defend the estate.
If you are dealing with the estate of the first of a married couple to die, you will need information about their estate when the second spouse dies, however long afterwards that might be. You should keep a copy of the Will (if there is one) and grant of probate, and a copy of the Inheritance Tax return. A copy of your list (see above) would also be a good idea.