Bishop Fleming’s probate service: how we can help

2nd September 2019

It has now been three years since Bishop Fleming launched its probate service.

We asked the Head of Probate and Bishop Fleming Partner Alison Oliver about why the service was launched and how it has developed, and her thoughts on what people can do to make probate an easier and a less stressful issue for friends and family.

What is probate?

Probate is the process of administering a deceased estate. This includes ascertaining assets and liabilities of the estate, paying debts or liabilities, and distributing the estate under the terms of the will.

As part of this, there could be Income Tax returns to deal with, as well as the Inheritance Tax return (IHT400 or IHT205). For larger estates this may also include the preparation of estate accounts.

What are letters of administration where someone dies without a will?

Letters of administration are where there is a will but it either did not name any executors, or there are no executors willing to act. It could also be that there is no valid will, in which case Administrators are decided using intestacy rules provided they have an interest in the estate.

When is probate required?

Probate is generally required for all estates. Probate would not be required for low value estates (under £5,000 and no land property or shares included), estates where all assets are owned jointly (as joint tenants) with another person and so pass under survivorship rules and if bank balances are under £5,000, as most banks will allow access with a death certificate and a copy of the will.

However, some will have different rules, so it is best to always check.

Why did Bishop Fleming launch a probate service, and how does it fit in with other Bishop Fleming services?

As we already act as advisors, we will already have some, if not all, the information required to piece together assets and liabilities. Calculating taxes and filing tax returns is something we do regularly and so we are well placed to provide an efficient service.

Where have clients come from?

They are mainly existing clients and their families

Can the service work alongside solicitors / banks / other accountants?

Yes. It already does.

How many people are in the probate team?

The Probate team currently includes – Alison Oliver, Alex Robins, Christine Tuckerman, Dominic Harry, Olivia Down, Jo Lawless.

How many probate clients have the team worked with?

We have worked with well over 30 estates since launching the service two years ago.

Did you have to undergo any training or certification to be authorised to administer probate?

Non-contentious probate is a reserved legal activity and Bishop Fleming is licensed by the ICAEW to carry out this reserved legal activity. All ‘authorised individuals’ have studied for and sat SWAT’s Certificate in Probate & Estate Administration.

Is probate still required even when no tax is at stake?

Potentially, if assets are in the deceased’s sole name but no tax is due as all has been passed to a spouse or charity for example. There may be reduced reporting requirements for such estates with regards to the Inheritance Tax return – IHT205 as opposed to a full IHT400.

Can the service take care of all aspects of probate?

Yes, apart from below.

Is there anything that can’t be carried out under the service?

We are unable to deal with any contentious aspects of the probate, such as will disputes and claims from dependants left out of the will, as this work must be passed to a solicitor.

What are the advantages of using the service, as opposed to either carrying out probate yourself or using a firm of solicitors?

The comfort of knowing everything will be dealt with correctly and efficiently by Bishop Fleming using our experienced members of the probate team is far less stressful than trying to navigate the system on your own. Certainly, tax aspects of an estate are quite often passed across to accountants from solicitors and if we already deal with your tax affairs we have the background knowledge which makes the process more straightforward.

What is the cost of using the service? Would I get an unexpected bill?

The work involved in administering an estate will depend on the complexity of the case, the terms of the will and whether any Inheritance Tax is due. We can do a fixed fee or an hourly rate – whatever is the most appropriate for the client’s circumstances at the time.

There has been much talk of large increases in probate fees payable to the government? Is there anything that can be done to avoid these?

Probate fees were meant to increase from April 2019, but the government has delayed their introduction. No new date has been announced at the time of this article.

However, if an estate is already being administered, it may save fees to apply for probate as soon as practicable, unless the estate is worth under £50,000 as there will be no fee for these estates under the new rules.

Does having an up-to-date will make probate easier?

Definitely – executors are named so no need to determine who the administrators should be, intestacy rules do not need to be used when distributing assets. More importantly the deceased is making his or her wishes clear.

If I have one, how often should I review my will?

You should always review your will at regular intervals when legislation changes. It is also worth reviewing on certain milestones in life, such as marriage or divorce, and the death or birth of close family members.

What happens when someone dies without making a will?

The rules of intestacy will apply which may result in unnecessary Inheritance Tax liabilities and can cause complications and potential hardship for the surviving spouse where assets are also shared with surviving children.

Do you have any advice for anyone reading this article on what they can do to safeguard their assets and their family’s inheritance?

We would advise you to review the level of assets and your will regularly.

You can contact one of the team at Bishop Fleming if you think Inheritance Tax will be an issue and you wish to do some planning. Ensure you are using all available Inheritance Tax reliefs – annual allowance, marriage gifts and gifts out of income.

Where can I find more information about the service?

You can find more information on our Probate Services page.

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