Guidance for executors of a will

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Q. My aunt passed away and I am named as the executor of her will, do I need to apply for probate?

A. Everything owned by a person who has died is known as their estate.

The estate may be made up of money, money owed to them, property and personal possessions. The estate may be reduced if they owe money to other people, for example, on a credit card, for fuel, for rent or a mortgage.

As executor of the will you would take on the responsibility for gathering together the estate of the person who has died, making payment of outstanding bills, and distributing property and possessions.

Whether probate is needed depends on the type of property left by the person who has died and on whether or not it was held in their name only. Probate may be needed whatever the value of the property.

Probate may be needed wherever the estate is made up of:

Freehold (including commonhold) or leasehold property, for example, a flat or a house;

Investments;

Insurance and pension benefits.

Probate may not be needed where:

The property in the estate is made up of cash and personal possessions such as a car, furniture, jewellery;

All the property in the estate is held in joint names as joint tenants, rather than as tenants in common or in the sole name of the person who has died. Property held as joint tenants automatically becomes wholly owned by the surviving joint tenant;

All personal property and possessions are held in joint names, for example, bank accounts;

In Northern Ireland, probate may not be needed if the amount of money held in a bank or similar institution is up to £10,000;

The personal representative discovers that the estate is insolvent, that is, there is not enough money in the estate to pay all the debts, taxes and expenses;

Where a nomination agreement exists. These agreements could only be made before 1981. They meant that the owner of the property nominated that it should be paid to a particular person in the event of death.

However, there is no obligation for any institution holding money on behalf of a person who has died to release it without probate.

This applies however small the amount of money.

If probate is demanded before assets will be released, the personal representative must apply for probate even if it is not otherwise needed.

The probate registry cannot instruct anyone to release assets if probate is demanded.

You will likely be asking yourself, ‘do I need a solicitor?’

As the personal representative you can deal with the estate yourself if the estate is uncomplicated.

If the estate is more complicated, you may find it helpful to use a solicitor (or other professional) to advise on particular points but continue to deal with the estate yourself.

However, in some circumstances a personal representative should always consult a solicitor (or other professional), so contact your local Citizens Advice for more information.

If a solicitor is used, their fees are paid out of the estate of the person who has died.

If a solicitor is named as an executor, a clause will have been put in the will allowing the solicitor to charge for this and to deduct the fees from the estate. If the solicitor is not an executor, the solicitors’ fees are usually paid from the residue of the estate.

But how much does probate cost?

The fee for applying for probate depends on the net value of the estate.

As a rough guide, the net value of the estate is the total value minus funeral expenses and any debts or outgoings due to be paid by the estate.

For example, in Northern Ireland, there is no fee for applying for probate where the net value of the estate is less than £10,000.

However, the fee for an estate valued at £10,000 or more starts at £220.

For full details of probate fees in Northern Ireland, see the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals website at www.courtsni.gov.uk.

For further advice get free, confidential and independent advice from your nearest Citizens Advice at www.citizensadvice.co.uk.

Or for further information go to www.citizensadvice.org.uk/nireland/ for specific local advice.

Jaclyn Glover, Citizen’s Advice Antrim & Newtownabbey.