Wills and Probate

Wills and probate solicitors can be very important to you if one of your loved ones is recently deceased. They are also important people to you if you want to have some control over what happens to your assets after you die.

What is a Will

A will is a formal legal document which sets out what a person would like to happen to their assets after they die. After debts and taxes are taken into account, assets will be divided as per the instructions of a will. A will can only be challenged in very rare circumstances.

If you do not have a valid will, then the state will use strict rules to decide where your assets will go after you die. Therefore, if you want control over the division of your assets, then you are advised to make a proper will.

In order for a will to be considered valid, it must meet certain criteria, including being formally witnessed and signed. These processes are designed to safeguard people, to make sure that they are not being forced into making choices that they would not normally want to make. Once a will has been formally created, it can only be altered by going through the official alteration (codicil) process. Unofficial alterations are unlikely to be recognized after your death.

Alternatively, you can make a whole new will, but it should be signed and witnessed in the same way that the original document was.

It is possible to write your own will, however you should seek legal advice before doing so, or else your will may be liable to misinterpretation. It is possible that what you believe to be clear instructions may not be interpreted in the same way by other people. A legal professional can help to ensure that you phrase each section clearly. If you do decide to write your own will, the Citizens’ Advice Bureau may be able to provide you with advice. Alternatively, many people find it easier and less stressful to know that their will has been created, signed and stored by a solicitor who specialises in Wills and Probate.

Probate

Probate is the name given to the act of “proving” and fulfilling the last will and testament of a deceased person. Although probate is normally carried out by a qualified legal professional, anyone can apply for a “grant of representation” which allows them to execute the will.

Anyone who has probate for a will must follow certain rules and procedures to ensure that all legal obligations surrounding the will are properly met. Failing to meet these criteria is illegal, and therefore many people prefer to use a solicitor or any other person who is also licensed to provide these probate services.

The first step for anyone who has probate is to ensure that the will that they are reading is the latest version. The latest version is normally held by the solicitor if a will has been made by a professional. They must then calculate and pay any inheritance tax that is due. Failure to do this properly could mean that the beneficiaries of the will are struck with large tax bills later on. Any unpaid debts must then be paid out of the assets of the estate. This includes unpaid utility bills, rent or professional fees.

Finally, the remaining portion of the estate is distributed amongst the beneficiaries. It can be hard to distribute the estate if the estate contains any assets which are not liquid (i.e. assets such as property which can be hard to divide between multiple beneficiaries).