Before the estate can be realised and distributed amongst the beneficiaries, a Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration will be required. The simplest procedure to ensure that this is carried out correctly is to instruct a solicitor or bank to act for you. This will relieve you of the worries and visits required to complete these formalities. Alternatively, application may be made personally to the District Probate Registry Office.
Probate is required where the deceased has left a will. The will has to be 'proved' before the Probate Registry of the High Court. Upon completion, the executors named in the will are able to administer the estate.
Letters of Administration are required where the deceased has not left a will. The deceased is said to have died intestate and the question then arises as to who should administer the estate. Here again, application has to be made to the court, usually by the next of kin. The court, when satisfied as to the claim of the applicant, issues a document (Letter of Administration) appointing the applicant as administrator of the estate.
Where the estate is small, it is sometimes possible for the assets to be released without making application for such a Grant. The Probate Registry office will advise you of the maximum asset value applicable in such circumstances.
In most circumstances, it is advisable to consult a solicitor or bank. This need not necessarily incur great expense and it will ensure that all the formalities required under the law are duly completed.
Apart from the interpretation of the will itself and the distribution of the assets to the beneficiaries nominated in the will (or under the intestacy rules in the absence of a will), a solicitor will administer the estate and obtain the appropriate grant. They will require a death certificate and any or all of the following: share certificates, savings certificates, premium bonds, deeds, insurance policies.
The solicitor will also require details of any debts that may be outstanding and will deal with these on your behalf. Should you find yourself in temporary difficulties with regard to finance he can usually make arrangements for you to draw sufficient funds to meet your immediate needs.
If the deceased was the owner of freehold property it may be necessary for your solicitor or the bank to arrange for it to be valued for probate or, of course, for it to be sold in order to realise the assets. It’s worth mentioning that no valuation is normally required where the house passes to the surviving spouse. Arrangements would be made for the valuation to be carried out by a chartered surveyor who would be in a position to settle the probate value with the Inland Revenue Valuation Department. They will also arrange for a qualified chattels valuer to value the contents. This would be particularly necessary where there are items such as antique furniture or jewellery since such items may have appreciated considerably in value in recent years and it’s important that they be correctly and accurately identified.
These can usually be found amongst the deceased's private papers or they may have been lodged with the bank or solicitor. It’s important to notify the insurance company as soon as possible, and they will require a death certificate. You should also request that they confirm the policy is in force; this too can generally be ascertained by your bank or solicitor.
Insurance cover on a vehicle owned by the deceased ceases upon death. The insurance company should be informed immediately and arrangements made for transfer of the policy. The Vehicle Registration document should be returned in due course to the licensing authority for transfer of ownership and the deceased's driving licence should be returned to the DVLA, Swansea, SA99 1AN.
Pension and social security books should be returned to a local Department of Social Services office.
Any current passport should be returned without delay to the Passport Office requesting cancellation and stating the date of death.
These are just a few of the legal formalities that need to be adhered to, and hence the reason why it is strongly recommended that professional advice is sought.