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Unravelling The Mysteries of Probate
To many, probate is a bit of a mystery. First, there’s the classic scene we see in dramas where close family arrives at the lawyer’s office for the reading of the Will. Then the lawyer reveals that no one inherits what they expect.
There are so many myths and misconceptions about the probate process, including the “Will Reading” moment, that it’s challenging to establish what’s fact or fiction. And worryingly, such misunderstandings give rise to bad decisions or, worse still, unnecessary family disputes.
So, looking at the most common myths, in turn, we hope that our summary below helps you to make better-informed decisions.
Estates with Wills Do Not Go Through Probate
A great many clients come to us under the impression that if you have a Will, your estate doesn’t need to ‘go through probate’.
That’s usually the case if the estate’s value is low, there’s no land/property, or the assets are jointly owned. However, probate is generally needed when:
- Assets and property are owned solely by the person who has died
- There’s a dispute or legal proceedings
- The deceased owns stocks or shares in their sole name
- The deceased has cash over the probate threshold in a bank or building society (the thresholds vary between £5000 & £50,000 depending on the institution)
If a Will includes a Trust, certain assets can pass to beneficiaries outside the probate process.
The Cost of Probate Often Consumes the Whole Estate
It’s true that there are some fees and costs associated with probate and that the longer it goes on, the more expensive it becomes. But, in reality, the probate process isn’t like the famous Charles Dickens case Jarndyce v Jarndyce, in his great novel Bleak House, where the beneficiaries leave the court with nothing after years of wrangling over the complexities of a Will. Quite the opposite, if there aren’t any disputes, fees are usually reasonable and proportionate to the size of the estate.
Probate Takes Years
Over the last year or so, the time taken to obtain a Grant of Probate increased significantly. Delays were caused by introducing a new software system at the Probate Registry (designed to make the process more efficient), re-allocating Probate department staff and the adverse effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. As a result, a process that usually takes six weeks takes up to 15. But the process is improving, if a little confusing and constantly changing.
That said, in normal circumstances, if there are no disputes, probate administration will likely take an average of 3 to 12 months to settle. Things to watch out for include debts, complicated taxes, and family disputes.
Your Executor Must Be Your Oldest Child or Nearest Relative
You can choose anyone you want to be your Executor. But, they must understand – and agree, to take on the responsibility. In practice, many do choose their oldest child. But you can choose any family member or friend, or even your bank manager, accountant or solicitor. There are many advantages to asking a professional. In practice, it can be beneficial to choose a combination of the two.
It’s essential to think about the probate process when you’re making your estate plan. Our Wills, Trusts and Probate team can help you plan your estate and represent you in the probate process. Please contact us if you’d like more information or advice. We’re here to help.
Please note that all views, comments or opinions expressed are for information only and do not constitute and should not be interpreted as being comprehensive or as giving legal advice. No one should seek to rely or act upon, or refrain from acting upon, the views, comments or opinions expressed herein without first obtaining specialist, professional or independent advice. While every effort has been made to ensure accuracy, Curtis Parkinson cannot be held liable for any errors, omissions or inaccuracies.