Probate investigation is a process that occurs in the UK when someone dies, and their estate needs to be distributed.
It involves investigating the assets and liabilities of the deceased person, and ensuring that their assets are distributed in accordance with their wishes or the law.
In this article, we will explore the probate investigation process in the UK, including when it is required, how it works, and what happens if there are issues found during the investigation.
When is probate investigation required?
Probate investigation is required when someone dies and leaves behind assets that need to be distributed. If the deceased person had a valid will, the executor named in the will is responsible for administering the estate and distributing the assets. If the deceased person did not have a will, it is called ‘intestate’ and a court-appointed administrator will be responsible for administering the estate.
The first step in the probate process is to apply for a grant of probate. This is a legal document that gives the executor or administrator the authority to deal with the deceased person's assets.
In some cases, the grant of probate may not be required, for example if the deceased person's assets were held jointly with someone else, or if their estate was very small.
How does probate investigation work?
Once the grant of probate has been obtained, the executor or administrator will need to carry out an investigation into the deceased person's assets and liabilities. This will involve:
1. Valuing the assets: The executor or administrator will need to value all of the deceased person's assets, including property, investments, bank accounts, and personal possessions.
2. Paying debts and taxes: Any debts or taxes owed by the deceased person will need to be paid out of their estate before any assets can be distributed to beneficiaries.
3. Distributing the assets: Once all debts and taxes have been paid, the executor or administrator can distribute the remaining assets to the beneficiaries named in the will, or to the deceased person's next of kin if there was no will.
During the probate investigation process, the executor or administrator may need to provide information to HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) about the deceased person's assets and liabilities, as well as any income earned by the estate during the probate process.
What happens if there are issues found during the investigation?
If there are issues found during the probate investigation, such as disputed claims or missing assets, the executor or administrator may need to take further steps to resolve them. This could include:
1. Applying for a court order: If there is a dispute over the validity of the will, or if someone contests the distribution of the assets, the executor or administrator may need to apply for a court order to resolve the issue.
2. Tracing missing assets: If the deceased person had assets that are unaccounted for, the executor or administrator may need to hire a specialist professional investigator to trace them.
3. Challenging disputed claims: If there are disputed claims against the estate, such as claims from creditors or family members, the executor or administrator may need to challenge them in court and for this too they may need the assistance of a professional investigator.
4. Locating beneficiaries: The executor or administrator may not know the whereabouts of some beneficiaries and may require the services of a professional investigator to locate their contact details.
More people are choosing to write a will in order to make their wishes clear and ensure that their assets are distributed as they intended.
However, even with a will in place, probate investigation may still be required to ensure that the estate is administered correctly.
It is worth noting that the probate process can take several months, and in some cases, even longer. This is because of the complexity of the investigation, as well as the fact that some assets may need to be identified, located, and sold before they can be distributed.
If your client is the executor or administrator of a deceased person's estate, it is important they seek professional advice to ensure that they comply with their legal obligations. They may wish to consider hiring a probate solicitor or a specialist probate service to assist with the process and ensure that everything is done correctly.
In summary, probate investigation is an important process that ensures that the wishes of the deceased person are respected, and their assets are distributed in accordance with their intentions. It can be a complex and time-consuming process, but with the right advice and support, it can be managed effectively.
Tony Imossi - Secretariat@theABI.org.uk