Our Probate Services
It’s not a secret that we offer probate services; we have been doing so since 2017. We are an award-winning probate practitioner and Enfield based accountancy firm offering an alternative to high street banks, solicitors and doing it yourself (DIY).
Be aware, Probate is complicated! We love complicated.
At JT AccountS® we recognise the risks involved in getting probate wrong and take a practical approach to ensuring we do not take these risks for granted. To this end there are certain pre-requisites to using us that are non-negotiable. Our goal is to fully protect and serve our personal representative.
Throughout this document we refer to personal representative. We mean personal representative to include executors, and where not stated specifically the client.
JT AccountS® sets a very high standard for their probate services so the personal representative can be sure they are receiving a professional, ethical service, targeted accurate advice, and relevant charges.
We are accredited, licensed and regulated by the ICAEW, company number C005236253 to administer probate services in a professional setting.
What is Probate?
The dictionary definition of probate is the official proving of a Will. However, it is so much more!
Probate is the legal right to deal with someone’s property, money and possessions, known as their estate, when they die. A personal representative should not make any financial plans or place any property on the market until they have obtained a grant of probate. You must also obtain the grant of probate to settle the estate before you can clear the house or go through the belongings of a deceased person.
If the affairs of a deceased person are very simple probate may not be needed or can be dealt with in a more simplified manner. However, it is very important not to assume and seek professional advice.
The deadline for paying inheritance tax due on an estate is 6 months from the end of the month in which the death occurs, otherwise interest is payable on the overdue amount, and using a professional probate practice to complete inheritance tax returns can help ensure that all tax reliefs are correctly claimed, unnecessary tax is mitigated, and make processes smoother when applying for the grant of probate.
Being a personal representative is not without risk and at JT AccountS® we are all about managing that risk for the personal representative so that they do not become personally liable financially for mistakes. For us, step one is:
- Establishing that our client is legally entitled to instruct us.
After this it is about making sure we are mitigating the risk for our personal representative, of:
- Assets being unaccounted for that may turn up later.
- The estate being distributed incorrectly, or to the wrong beneficiaries.
- Inaccurate reporting to HMRC.
- Inaccurate reporting to HMCTS.
To help avoid these risks you can expect us to conduct the following support searches prior to proceeding with any application for probate.
Our ‘belt and braces’ approach will include a Will search, Financial Asset, Liability and Digital Asset search and a Family Tree search. These are explained (and priced) in greater detail below.
A Will search: through the National Will register, we will make checks to establish if a Will has been registered, and where this Will is currently being stored. In addition, we conduct a wider geographically targeted search that looks at Wills that have not been registered and are being held by solicitors and professional will writers. The National Will Register currently holds more than 10 million records with many more being held by solicitors and professional will writers.
It is vitally important for a personal representative who believes there is no Will to be able to demonstrate that they have taken reasonable steps to find a Will, before declaring the estate “Intestate”(the deceased died without making a Will) – or to establish that the Will they have is the most recent Will in existence. A personal representative can be held liable financially for getting this wrong.
It is not uncommon for Wills drafted many years ago to be forgotten, or for earlier Wills now revoked to still reside with the solicitor or will writer that drafted them. For several reasons, the Will search is a requirement of our service.
The National Will Register currently charge £126 for this search; a cost we will pass on to our client.
A Financial Asset and Liability search: in the past we have discovered that personal representatives are often unaware of the obligation probate bestows on them and either believe they know about everything the deceased was a party to or haven’t a clue where to start.
Using a reputable asset search provider, we will reach out to over 200 financial institutions and 350 financial databases to uncover all accounts and policies held with banks, building societies, personal pensions, national savings, life assurance, shares and investments and the department of work and pensions (DWP) that are due to an estate prior to distribution. In addition, we perform a credit data check of the deceased to look for any liabilities their estate may have such as bankruptcy, CCJs, and IVAs as well as open and closed current accounts, credit cards, mortgages, pay day loans and more. During this check we also look for previous names, previous addresses and financially connected persons. It is better to leave no stone unturned however uncomplex the deceased appears to be.
And finally, our digital asset search which requests a thorough search of 50 further organisations and online providers. In recent years our online presence has increased exponentially. As digital assets can be defined as anything which is owned digitally that can create value, these also need to be located and dealt with as part of an estate.
Digital assets can include, but are not limited to, everything from social media profiles, online shopping accounts, online banking through to cryptocurrency exchanges, registered emails and domain providers, marketplace providers and gambling providers.
We know what we are looking for, and at, so it doesn’t faze us to ask for the personal representative to box up every piece of paperwork they can find from the home of the deceased so we can sift through this ourselves. However, we now reside in a digital age and physical paperwork is reducing. Therefore, this type of operation will not capture everything and cannot be relied on.
Case studies have proven that there are billions of funded accounts that have been left dormant or closed and therefore unclaimed. It is not beyond the realms of possibility that someone has moved away without leaving a forwarding address and forgotten to close something leaving the provider unable to make contact. When people move jobs, pensions are not moved over; the list is endless.
We don’t rely on our personal representative to know everything. Let’s face it, the need to obtain probate comes at a time when they themselves are potentially at their most vulnerable and not completely ready to be deep diving in the personal assets of the deceased. It is part of our due diligence process and proactive approach to conduct this search to ensure that nothing gets missed.
The search itself takes up to 40 days to complete at the end of which we are provided a report on the findings. It is possible that not everything will be discovered in 40 days, and it is the policy of the provider to update us after the 40 days period with anything else that may be discovered. We can then discuss this with our clients and decide the next steps.
It is possible we may discover hidden treasure, forgotten empty accounts that just need to be closed, or nothing, but it will facilitate accurate reporting to HMRC and protect the personal representative from costly error.
The current charge for this search is £240; a cost we will pass on to our client.
Throughout this process we take data security and protection very seriously. We understand that appropriate security measures must be taken to protect personal data and comply with the Data Protection Act 2018.
The Data Protection Act (DPA) is a law designed to protect personal data. Our services comply with the Data Protection Act as we are only researching accounts that belong to people who are deceased.
We are registered with the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) and our reference number is ZA521125. This means that we are regulated to ensure we are always complying with data security legislation.
A Family Tree search: as part of our consultation process, we need to take a brief family tree from the personal representative. This typically includes spouse or civil partner and the following blood or adopted relatives: children, grandchildren, parents, siblings and their children, grandparents, aunt, uncles and their children – both alive, deceased, full blood, half blood and adopted.
It is not uncommon for this information to be unknown or incomplete and for this reason we perform a professional confirmatory search of any information collected to ensure that the family tree information is as accurate and complete.
It is important to establish the family tree to allow for missing members to be identified, if only to be aware they exist and what rights they may have. As a professional probate practice, we need to make sure that the person instructing us is entitled to do so, as progressing a probate application without this knowledge could be disastrous.
This is especially important with an intestate estate where we must follow the Rule 22 guidelines of the non-contentious probate rules 1987, where there is an order of priority for who can apply for the grant.
Our second reason for performing this search is to ensure that all relevant family have been properly identified and that if something new presents itself that we are in the best position to advise. We can help identify a potential claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 (IPFDA) and helps put contingencies in place to protect the personal representative.
There is no current charge for this search.
In addition to our mandatory searches, for peace of mind during our contract we also perform the following checks: bankruptcy and insolvency, power of attorney and deputyship. These are explained in greater detail below.
Bankruptcy and insolvency: in the spirit of transparency JT AccountS® perform these checks on both the personal representative and beneficiaries. Whilst being bankrupt does not prevent a beneficiary from inheriting, if the bankruptcy is undischarged their inheritance may need to be paid to a trustee. Similarly, whilst being bankrupt doesn’t prevent a personal representative from acting, further discussion will be needed, and safeguards may need to be put in place to assist and protect the personal representative.
As the process of gaining probate and distributing a deceased persons estate can take many months, we would perform this check at the point of instruction. If JT AccountS® are also engaged to assist with the estate distribution a further check will be made on the beneficiaries prior to distribution.
Where we are not engaged to assist with the distribution of the estate the advice to our personal representative would be to conduct this check themselves to avoid incorrect distribution; a personal representative can be held personally liable for errors and will be in breach of their obligations if a bankrupt beneficiary inherits when the distribution should have been given to a trustee to help settle creditors.
There is no statutory legislation to protect the personal representative financially if they do not make these checks and distribute incorrectly. To help with this, it is company policy to include a statement on our confirmation of distribution letter asking that the beneficiary confirms that they have not been declared bankrupt and are not currently under a bankruptcy or debt order.
There is no current charge for this search.
Power of attorney and deputyship: in most instances the personal representative is likely to know if there was a power of attorney or deputyship for the deceased, and it is important for us to be able to notify this on the inheritance tax forms. A power of attorney and/or deputyship are legal documents that allow someone to make decisions for you, or act on your behalf, if you’re no longer able to or if you no longer want to make your own decisions. They are only valid during lifetime and need to be cancelled by The Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) on death.
Knowing there was a power of attorney or deputyship can be invaluable in establishing lifetime giving of the deceased, as the attorneys may be more aware of what happened during the last seven years of the deceased’s life than the personal representative.
When a personal representative is unsure if there may have been a power of attorney or deputyship, we are able to check this with the OPG. Finding a power of attorney or deputyship with attorneys that are different to the personal representative allows us to be more proactive in helping our personal representative to discover information they may not be aware of and to ensure we are reporting correctly to HMRC and HMCTS.
There is no current charge for this search.
Price and Service Transparency
From the 1 February 2022, the Legal Services Board updated the Probate Regulations to mandate price and service transparency by a Probate firm. This means that our regulatory body, the ICAEW expect us to publish the total fees or estimates of the likely fees for services that we provide and on what basis; we publish this information on our website jt-accounts.co.uk, and through email communications with our personal representative prior to any engagement. A description of our services with key stages and timescales; this is covered in stage one to five of this article. Details of how and when to complain directly to us, or to ICAEW and/or the Legal Ombudsman, our ICAEW accreditation and arrangements of ICAEW’s compensation fund and professional indemnity insurance; these are covered in our letters of engagement.
The intention is to keep our charges to you, as low as possible. In addition to this, and to make things more understandable, we explain Estate Characteristics; as this helps people decide where a particular estate falls within our pricing range, and our Scope of Services in summary.
Please note that the content of this article is correct at the time of publication. It relies on legislation, best practice and disbursement costs at the time of publication which may become unreliable in future years. We aim to review this article annually; always check you are seeking the most current advice available.
In limited circumstances, and only after a thorough discussion, we may determine that a search is not needed. If this occurs, we will require an ‘Opt Out’ notice to be signed by the personal representative.
About This Article:
Please get in contact if you have any financial questions, or what more information about anything you have read within this artical. All of the JT AccountS® services are fully operational.
All our contracts start with an informal chat with potential personal representative.
JT AccountS Newsletter Issue Three: Published December 2019
JT AccountS Newsletter Issue One: Published June 2019
Practice Number: 21331
Jacqueline Tetley is licensed and regulated by AAT under licence number 5096.