As executor of an estate, it is your responsibility to ensure your probate solicitor has all the information necessary to administer the estate. The amount of information will depend on the complexity of the deceased person’s various assets and investments and how well organised they were with their paperwork.
‘The better the information that you can provide, the quicker they will be able to complete the process and get any bequest to the beneficiaries,’ says Wendy Mustard, wills and probate solicitor with Richard Reed Solicitors.
The executor’s responsibilities
Executors have a legal responsibility to administer the will in accordance with the law and the will-maker’s wishes. This involves gathering in all the assets, paying off any debts (including any inheritance tax) and finally, distributing the net estate to the beneficiaries.
If there is no will, an administrator (usually the next of kin) must be appointed by the court. The administrator will then have the same responsibilities as an executor and will distribute the net estate to the entitled individuals, the deceased’s closest living relatives, under the statutory rules of intestacy.
This means thinking about what assets and debts need to be valued, and you will need to collect various pieces of documentation from your loved one’s papers and belongings. These will enable your solicitor to make the application for the Grant of Probate (or Letters of Administration if there is no will).
Initially, your solicitor will need:
- the death certificate and a couple of certified copies;
- the will (if there is one) and any codicil;
- if your loved one left a letter of wishes, your solicitor should see this;
- contact details of all beneficiaries named in the will; or closest relatives entitled under the intestacy rules if there is no will;
- marriage certificate if it is necessary to show, for example, change of name; and
- a list of all debts and assets.
Information about assets
To call in the assets your probate solicitor will need documentary proof of ownership or entitlement to financial accounts. This means considering what documents and other information are necessary to apply to banks and other institutions to cash in the accounts and sell or transfer assets. The most common documents (or login details) executors will need to produce are:
- bank and building society account statements or passbooks;
- share certificates to enable stock transfer forms to be completed;
- land and property deeds or documents showing proof of legal ownership, for example, if a property needs to be sold or transferred;
- documents relating to any business interests;
- passwords for digital assets, such as investment platforms, cryptocurrency accounts, multi-media services, websites or social media; and
- professional valuations of personal items of value, such as expensive jewellery, antiques and collectables.
Unexpected finds and things you cannot trace
From time to time, an expensive artwork is found wrapped in a carpet or antiques are found hidden away in the loft after someone’s death. Sometimes such finds provide an estate with an unexpected windfall. Before you ring a local house clearance business, check the property thoroughly and if you are unsure of the value of anything you find, consider talking it through with your solicitor before disposing of it.
Tell your solicitor if you think your loved one owned valuables which you cannot find or held certain shares or bonds or had an account which you cannot trace.
What you should do now
Armed with the certainty of what information you now need to collate, make an appointment with a specialist probate solicitor who can then get the estate administration under way, giving you welcome peace of mind.
For more information and advice on the documents your solicitor will need before applying for the Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration, please contact Wendy Mustard in the experienced private client team on 0191 567 0465 or email [email protected]