How to dispel the common probate myths?

Recent reports have shown that the probate process is one of the main legal areas that leads to complaints against solicitors. Delays in the probate system have not helped matters, with some individuals now having to wait months before an application is granted, adding significant stress at what is already a difficult time.

At Ampla Finance, we’ve seen a notable rise in client queries in the last few months from individuals at a loss as to how the probate processes actually works but sceptical as to whether or not they should enlist a solicitor to complete the process for them. So, as probate professionals, what are the common probate myths you can dispel to help make the process as smooth and easy as possible for you and your client?

The importance of clarity in outlining your role

Firstly, it is important to note just how many individuals do not know what the role of an executor is. Ampla’s recent ‘It’s time to talk’ survey found that just 11% of Britons feel they have enough of an understanding of probate to complete the process.

It’s absolutely vital that you explain to a client what your role is, which is to take legal responsibility for carrying out the instructions left by an individual regarding their estate, be it clearing any left behind bills, paying inheritance tax, or completing the probate application. This should be done at the outset of the process to help reassure the client you’re not there to take advantage of their uninformed and potentially vulnerable position.

Our survey also found that only 14% of Britons plan to appoint a solicitor to help them with probate. We regularly encounter individuals taking on an executor’s responsibilities, often assuming it is easy to administer an estate themselves, only to discover the opposite to be the case.

Whilst your client is likely to be in the minority in having already appointed a solicitor to assist them, it’s still imperative you outline the value of professional advice. Assuring the client that they’ve done the right thing can help to build as strong a relationship with them as possible, which in turn should make the process quicker and easier.

The challenge of missing financial detail

At Ampla, we’ve also experienced an increase in enquiries from clients who can’t find the financial details of the deceased, such as who they banked with and where all their assets are held. With this information being needed in order to pay inheritance tax, which is itself needed to complete probate, this situation has delayed numerous individuals’ probate applications.

Clients should be aware that they are not alone in this position. In fact, just 24% of individuals know who their parents bank with or how many accounts they hold. If this information is proving exceptionally difficult to find, there are skilled companies that specialise in finding this information, which can be invaluable in speeding up the process.

Without giving exact details away, this means of assistance should be conveyed to the client to ensure the process is as open and transparent as possible. Doing this also gives the client a greater understanding as to what is included in the solicitor’s fee.

Acting in the best interests of all

One quirk of the executor process that all clients should be made aware of is the fact that the executor is obliged by law to act in the best interest of all beneficiaries of an estate, even if this means seemingly acting against their own personal interests. Therefore, if probate is delayed at all, no matter the reason why, this could open you up to criticism, or worse, from the will’s beneficiaries.

This information must be conveyed to the client, so that should any of your decisions – as the executor on their behalf – seemingly negatively impact them in comparison to the beneficiaries at large, they understand why.

Ensuring IHT liabilities are met

Additionally, with only 14% of Brits aware that inheritance tax needs to be paid within six months of death, it is vital this is communicated to the client. Should probate yet to be granted in the first six months after death, or the client does not have the funds necessary to meet any inheritance tax payments themselves, there are additional finance options out there that can help individuals pay any inheritance tax liabilities due.

Amplifying the significance of early conversations

In the UK, there is a reluctance in many families to have a conversation about legacy plans, with probate often being seen as an issue to tackle later in life. Making clients aware of the importance of having early conversations about inheritance is invaluable. There is no ‘perfect’ age to start planning. If families had these conversations earlier, or even had them at all in some cases, it may reduce the stress and difficulties that are added on to loved ones at what is already a difficult time.

For too many individuals in Britain, 57% according to our survey, an inheritance sum is needed to help cover everyday spending costs, or for helping to boost savings for essentials, such as a house deposit. With this in mind, clients should be reminded of the significance of making loved ones aware of their legacy plans, and how they can be enacted quickly. This is so crucial as it could save families potentially thousands of pounds alongside months of frustration and difficulty.

Clients should also be made aware of the importance of writing a will as early as possible, along with the importance for all their family members and friends to do likewise. Additionally, clients should be told to ensure they are in a position where their loved ones can easily find or track down their key financial information, which could save family members going through similar difficulties they might have faced when trying to complete probate.

The key takeaways

So, with inheritance issues on the rise due to the events of the last couple of years, and delays in the probate system showing no signs abating any time soon, it is likely that you could receive similar enquiries from individuals unsure about the probate process in the coming months.

Having an open and honest discussion with them about how the system works, what the role of the executor involves, and the timeframes that they should expect to find can go a long way to making the process as straightforward and swift as possible. All clients, no matter how difficult a time they may be going through, will appreciate this added level of care and support.

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