The short answer is no, but you might want to.
There is no legal requirement for a Solicitor to be involved in the administration of an estate, unless they have been appointed as an Executor under the terms of the Will because that is the choice of the person who made the Will. However, there is more to administering an estate than most people think – here are some of the things people do not normally think of:
• There are different procedures depending on whether or not there is a Will.
• Do you know for certain that you have the latest Will?
• Do you know who and where all the beneficiaries are, particularly if there is no Will?
• Have you met all the requirements of HM Revenue & Customs in relation to Inheritance Tax, Income Tax and Capital Gains Tax?
• You have to keep estate accounts and provide a copy to all the main beneficiaries, and the Court if it asks for them.
• You have to pay all liabilities and all legacies before you distribute the estate to the main beneficiaries.
• In certain circumstances, you may have to pay interest to some of the beneficiaries.
• The estate may need to be registered on HM Revenue & Customs’ trusts and complex estates register.
• You can be sued by the beneficiaries if you interpret the provisions of the Will wrongly.
• Have any trusts been set up by the Will?
• Do you know the difference between assets that pass by survivorship (such as a property held as joint tenants) and assets that pass purely under the terms of the Will?
• Are there any nominated assets or assets written in trust that you need to take into account?
• Has the deceased been in care, because if they have, there may be retrospective care fees funding claims to be made.
• Was the deceased in receipt of means-tested state benefits? If so, the Recovery from Estates Department of the Department for Work and Pensions will investigate the estate to see if there were any underpaid or overpaid benefits.
• Do you know what expenses you can claim?
• Would you know what to do if there were minor or disabled beneficiaries?
• Would you know how to deal with “appropriation”, “transfers in specie” or “hotch-pot”?
• Are you certain that the estate is safe from a claim against it?
• Do you know what Probate means?
A lot of administering an estate is just the sheer volume of paperwork involved rather than any particularly technical legal issues and, of course, not all of the things listed above crop up in every estate, but there are a good many that do and it can be easy to miss something. There was a recent case where an Executor, who paid out the estate to a beneficiary, assuming that they would pay the inheritance tax due, was sued by HM Revenue & Customs because the beneficiary did not pay the tax and an Executor is personally liable for any unpaid liability of an estate.
But what about the cost?
It is understandable that you would want to save the estate the expense of legal fees but, actually, for the work that is involved and the peace of mind that you have that the burden of responsibility has been taken off your shoulders (we can be sued and have to carry professional indemnity insurance to cover any loss if we get something wrong) makes the cost worthwhile. We have heard a number of stories recently of organisations (quite often estate administration companies recommended by banks or Will-writing companies) who have told prospective clients that solicitors charge tens of thousands of pounds to administer estates, but here, at Onions & Davies, the vast majority of the estates that we deal with cost no more than the amount of the funeral bill to administer and sometimes a lot less.
We will always provide an initial, free of charge, no obligation meeting with Executors, to let them know what is involved and the likely cost and we will always try to find ways in which the workload can be shared between you and us, to save costs.
For further information about the estate administration services that we can offer, please contact Chris Milne on 01630 652405 or by email