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WHAT TO DO WHEN A PROPERTY OWNER DIES

There are lots of things you need to think about when someone close to you passes away, and it can often be difficult to know where to start.

Besides letting family and friends know, it's likely you will also have to deal with a property that has been left behind. And whilst this can seem complicated and a little overwhelming, it is important that you understand the process so that you know what to do next.

IF THERE IS A WILL

Probate

A will usually specifies a named person (or ‘executor’ in official terms) who has been chosen to deal with the deceased’s estate. If this isn’t you, you will need to contact them, so they can then start the process of applying for a grant of probate (or grant of confirmation in Scotland).

Probate is the legal course of dealing with someone’s property, money and possessions (their ‘estate’), and gives the executor the authority to split or sell it in accordance with the terms of the will.

If you are an executor, you can apply for probate yourself or use a solicitor to provide probate services.

In England and Wales

Before you begin the process of applying for probate, you must first locate the deceased’s will and a copy of the death certificate, then estimate the gross value of the estate and report it to HM Revenue and Customer (HMRC).

Depending on its value, you may have to pay Inheritance Tax before probate is granted, which you can then claim back from the estate or the beneficiaries if you pay it out of your own bank account.

If the property is registered with HM Land Registry and the person who died was the sole owner, then the personal representative will either assent the property to the person(s) who are due to inherit it by completing an AS1 application or transfer the property to someone else using form TR1.

You can find out if a property is registered here. If the property isn’t registered, a transfer of ownership will trigger the need to register it for the first time. You can learn more about that here.

Once the above has been done, you can then apply for probate. This can either be done online or by completing a PA1P form and sending it to your local Probate Registry, along with:

  • the original will and any additions to it (‘codicils’);
  • two copies of the will and additions on plain A4 paper - do not remove any staples or bindings to make the copies; and
  • the death certificate or an interim death certificate from the coroner.

Please note, that if the value of the estate is £5,000 or over, there is a charge of £215 to apply for probate. Once all documents have been submitted and the fee paid, a grant of probate will be received within 20 days.

In Northern Ireland

Like in England and Wales, following a death an executor or administrator (also called the personal representative) will take responsibility for dealing with the estate.

This person will need to inform HMRC of the death and submit an estimated value of the estate. If inheritance tax is payable, this will need to be paid before an application for probate can be made.

Once this has been done, a grant of probate can be applied for, which can be requested one of two ways. Firstly, you can apply using a solicitor, for which there is normally a charge so make sure to check this first, or you can apply without a solicitor.

If you choose to go it alone, you will need to complete form PA1P and attend an interview at either the Belfast or Londonderry Probate Office, to confirm the details in your application and sign the probate forms. You will also be required to bring the following documents with you:

  • photo ID;
  • the death or coroner’s certificate;
  • inheritance tax form IHT205 or IHT421;
  • the original will; or
  • the original marriage certificate – if there is no will and the deceased was married; or
  • the original Decree Absolute – if there is no will and the deceased was divorced.

After your interview, the Probate Office will issue the Grant of Probate or Grant of Letters of Administration, which you will receive by post within three to five weeks.

If the net value of the estate is more than £10,000 you will be charged a probate fee of £237.00 plus an application fee of £59.00. Any estate worth below £10,000 will not incur a fee.

In Scotland

After someone passes away in Scotland, their assets are automatically frozen until a grant of confirmation is obtained by the executor named in the will.

There are two types of confirmation, one for small estates (where the total value is £36,000 or less) and one for large estates (where the total value is over £36,000).

When dealing with a small estate you will need to complete forms C1 and C5(SE). You should then find the sheriff clerk’s office closest to the place the person who has died lived (although your own local one will do if that is inconvenient) and ask for a “small estate interview”. You will need to bring the following things to the interview:

  • the original will or testamentary writing; or
  • the death certificate (not a copy);
  • two forms of ID;
  • court fees; and
  • all the details of the estate and its value (small estate checklist).

Applications for a large estate require form C1 to be filled in, with the above documents to be provided to the sheriff court, either in person or by post.

As part of the application, all or part of the inheritance tax must be paid before confirmation is granted. After submitting all relevant forms along with fees and the accompanying documents, the certificate of confirmation should arrive within 10 working days. If the grant is declined, you will be notified by writing.

If the value of the estate is £5001 or more, a fee of £200 is payable to the Sheriff Court. For estates with a value of £5000 or less, there is no fee.

IF THERE IS NO WILL

When someone dies without leaving a will, dealing with their estate can be complicated. In this instance, it might be necessary to obtain a Grant of Letters of Administration from a solicitor, which gives you the right to deal with an estate on behalf of the deceased. However, it’s important to note that only certain people can apply to be an ‘administrator’ of the estate.

You can usually apply if you’re deceased’s next of kin (for example their spouse, civil partner or child) or if you were married or in a civil partnership with the person when they died, even if you were separated at the time.

You cannot apply to be an administrator and are not automatically entitled to any of your partner’s estate if you were not their spouse or civil partner when they died.

GOV.UK’s short survey will help you to find out who is entitled to inherit a share of an estate when a property owner dies without making a will.

To minimise complications, it is advisable to have a will drawn up if you own all or part of a property.

JOINTLY OWNED PROPERTY

If the deceased was a joint property owner, their share automatically passes to the surviving joint owner(s). If the property is registered in joint names, and the other person wants to remain there, you just need to notify HM Land Registry of the death.

Probate generally isn’t required to deal with the property in this case but may be needed if the deceased’s estate warrants it. This depends entirely upon what the deceased owned and what the beneficiaries intend to do with the property.

WHAT ABOUT INHERITANCE TAX?

Inheritance Tax is usually only payable on estates worth £325,000 or more, and you normally won’t pay anything if everything is left to a spouse, civil partner or charity.

The UK’s standard Inheritance Tax rate is 40% and is only charged on sums above the threshold. This means that if you have an estate worth £500,000 the Inheritance Tax charged will be 40% of £175,000 (£500,000 minus £325,000), in this case totalling £70,000.

It’s important to remember that even if the estate’s value is below the threshold, you will still need to report it to HMRC

USEFUL CONTACTS

For more information, get in touch with Citizens Advice and if there is anything you are unsure about, make sure to speak to a solicitor.

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