With or without a will

When a loved one passes away the sheer scope and breadth of tasks to be undertaken can seem overwhelming – all of which must be undertaken during a time when you’re facing an equal amount of grief.

Dealing with the finances and legal aspects of a person’s death is likely one of the most imposing, throughout which there can be an array of misinformation and confusing guidance that serves only to make your task harder.

With this in mind, and within this article, here we provide a straight forward guide to Probate & Estate Administration when someone passes both with and without a will.

Getting to grips with terminology

A person’s passing will likely feel incredibly emotional for you – yet the legal terms and jargon that float around whilst undertaking the necessaries can make it all feel impersonal, sterile and cold. Yet it’s important to understand these terms, so here’s a quick rundown of the main words and phrases that you’ll need to know.

Starting at the very beginning: What is an estate?

An estate officially means the ‘net worth’ of an individual at any point (or in other words, their assets against liabilities - such as money and property, as well as their debts); this again seems a cold way to summarise what a person’s life represents, nevertheless this is purely from a legal perspective.

Probate

Probate is a word that is used to simply describe the process of dealing with your loved one’s money, possessions and final wishes.

Intestate

When a person hasn’t made a will at the time of their passing they are said to have died intestate. There are many rules and processes that define this, and how such a person’s estate is consequently handled.

Guidance for Probate & Estate Administration – with a will

When a person passes away with a will in place the process of dealing with the person’s estate is undertaken by the named ‘executor’ (a person the deceased would have noted as the person they wished to deal with the will). This person, or persons, doesn’t necessarily receive any of the person’s estate, and are merely required to deal with the person’s money and property, as well as being responsible for paying taxes and debts.

That said, if the money or property left is significant, then executors will need to apply for a grant of representation to access the estate – this is made via the
Probate Registry.

To find out whether a person is required to pay Inheritance Tax, the executor must contact HMRC as soon as they are able, they should then also contact the National Insurance Contributions Office if they were self-employed or paying voluntary NI.

Guidance for Probate & Estate Administration – without a will

When someone passes away without a will in place the estate of the deceased is dealt with by an administrator; this will usually be the person who was the deceased’s next of kin (e.g. such as their partner, husband/wife, or child).

Generally such a person can apply for a grant of representation, with this also including married partners, or those who were in a civil partnership – even where a couple may have been separated, but yet to divorce.

Because of the complexity around the rules of splitting an estate that is intestate, the Government have created a question by question online test to help those in such a position in understanding what may be given to whom. You can take this test on the ‘Intestacy - who inherits if someone dies without a will?’ page.

Sources for Support and further information

For one-to-one advice and support it’s advisable that you seek legal counsel from a Solicitor’s office.
HMRC
National Insurance Contributions Office
Intestate Government page