It’s no secret, administering an estate is rarely ever simple or straightforward. Whether it’s an intestate estate, there are missing beneficiaries or overseas assets to be repatriated, various complexities can arise that each come with their own risks or challenges.
Let’s explore each of the 10 key stages of the estate administration process, outline some of the risks that may arise and review some possible solutions you can consider to mitigate your risks.
1. Determining whether it is an intestate or testate estate
Usually, one of the first questions asked when presented with a new estate to be administered is whether there is a Will. This helps to determine whether the rules of intestacy apply or not.
If the family is unaware of a Will, finding a Will at a later date could result in you being held responsible for not conducting a thorough search.
A professional Will search service, like the one offered by Title Research, uses the Certainty National Will Register, places a notification on the Certainty Missing Wills Register and contacts other local Solicitors in search of a valid Will. The added benefit is that we would provide a no-obligation quote for Missing Will Insurance for reassurance and peace of mind.
2. Locating entitled beneficiaries
Finding out who is entitled to inherit from the deceased’s estate may not be as simple as it sounds, especially when you’re dealing with an intestate estate. Often, this will require the verification or reconstruction of the family tree, which can, subsequently, lead to searching for an Administrator, missing or unknown people or missing documentation.
If the deceased’s estate is testate, it can be simpler, however, you may still be faced with a missing beneficiary.
Without a Will or known next of kin, you may have difficulty locating an Administrator who is willing to act.
If there are no options, the estate may require a referral to the Government Legal Department. Before that happens, it is worthwhile to determine whether a next of kin exists with a prior claim to the Crown. This can allow you to take advantage of the commercial opportunity of administering the estate. At Title Research, we can conduct a 100% risk-free Administrator search, which aims to find a relative who is willing and able to act as a Personal Representative, allowing you to retain administration of the estate.
If an estate is erroneously distributed to any unentitled individuals, the Personal Representative can be held responsible for the error.
Verification or reconstruction of a family tree, even if there is little to no known information to start, can help to mitigate this risk. With increasing family relationships, for example, adoptions, children born outside of marriage and having children with multiple partners, mistakes are more likely to occur. The FamilyChecker™ and family tree reconstruction services offered by Title Research can provide the support required for you and your client if this circumstance arises. With an expert team of genealogy specialists who can conduct interviews or locate birth, marriage, death, divorce and adoption documentation globally, you will have the peace of mind that the estate has been distributed correctly.
Have you ever had to find a missing beneficiary? If so, you know how time-consuming and laborious the task can be.
A professional service to trace missing beneficiaries can not only make the process more efficient, but can also help to free up your time for other work. The added benefit is receiving missing beneficiary indemnity insurance for protection if the beneficiary cannot be located but reappears after the distribution of the estate.
3. Identifying, valuing and securing assets
In a straightforward estate with a single property and a handful of bank accounts, identifying assets can be quick and simple. However, it’s not uncommon to be presented with an estate where mystery bank statements, share certificates or dividend vouchers are found by family members after their loved one has passed away.
An accurate schedule of assets is needed to maximise the distribution of the estate for beneficiaries, as well as to report complete information to HMRC to avoid any future delays.
Delays! A delay can occur at several points when administering an estate but is commonly seen when realising assets.
Start the process early. Knowing that some assets can take longer than others to realise, getting an early start can help avoid potential future problems that could delay the distribution of the estate. If any assets are complicated to manage and you’re unsure of what it means to your timelines, consulting a professional like Title Research may help get things on track and aid with communication to your client.
Additional assets may be found after distribution.
Thorough asset searches can help to mitigate this risk. Some ways of doing so include:
A comprehensive search of the deceased’s paperwork and statements
Checking the Unclaimed Assets Register
Instructing a private company like Inheritance Data to perform a broad financial asset search of 200 financial institutions and more than 350 databases
4. Paying Inheritance Tax (IHT)
If applicable, IHT must be paid after all assets are identified and valued. If there are errors or late submissions, the Personal Representative will be liable, so this is an important stage.
The transfer of any unused Residence Nil-Rate Band may be required
You will need to gather all documents required to transfer the unused IHT exemptions. This can include marriage certificates, the spouse’s death certificate and any probate paperwork. It’s worth mentioning that at Title Research, we offer a Nil-Rate Band pack that includes everything you need for this process.
5. Applying for the Grant of Representation or resealing the Grant
As part of the estate administration process in the UK, a Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration may be necessary. Alternatively, you may need to obtain a resealed Grant or apply for a new Grant in another jurisdiction.
Dealing with an overseas Grant of Probate or getting a UK Grant of Probate resealed could be challenging, especially if foreign paperwork or a court visit is needed for a different jurisdiction.
The most recommended option to assist with this challenge is instructing a specialist to help. The Title Research team can complete most work in-house, however, we also work with several partners globally who can be called upon for physical court applications, if required.
6. Receiving the Grant of Representation
Once the Grant is received, you can legally gather the assets.
7. Gathering UK and foreign assets
Now, you’re able to start to collect and gather the assets. In estates with several assets, including UK shareholdings or overseas assets, the process can take longer or become complicated.
You may have difficulty liquidating UK shareholdings within a timely manner.
A fast track service can help you sell UK shareholdings within 48 hours, allowing your client to be in receipt of funds within 7-10 days, therefore, greatly increasing the process.
If there are overseas assets to be collected, every country has different rules, forms and processes, which makes this process quite complicated at times.
If you need a hand with repatriating foreign assets back to the UK, a professional can help. Our extensive network of experts located on-the-ground around the world can help with the navigation of red tape associated with various pitfalls, risks and paperwork in any country. Having the know-how and processes in place to verify, transfer or sell assets can make a huge difference to this step.
In North America, selling and transferring shareholdings is not straightforward. For example, a Medallion Signature Guarantee may be required before shares are transferred or sold, or US shares could become escheated if the account was dormant. Both of these examples can be difficult to work through.
Title Research can navigate the tasks required when selling and transferring shareholdings in the United States and Canada. With our extensive experience, we will complete all the necessary paperwork, verify the shareholding and transfer or sell the asset, as required. This includes obtaining tax clearance from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) if a Federal Transfer Certificate is needed or recovering escheated funds.
Volatility in the currency market can, of course, be hugely disruptive to the estate administration process, and potentially result in lower returns than expected when the proceeds from a legal claim are repatriated.
There’s a significant benefit in using an international currency transfer service to mitigate some of the risks faced when making a corporate currency transfer. Save yourself time and money with preferred exchange rates and fee-free currency transfers.
8. Paying debts
Before distributing the inheritance to beneficiaries, all debts belonging to the deceased must be paid.
9. Distributing the estate to beneficiaries
After the payment of all debts, the estate is ready to be distributed to the beneficiaries. It is critical at this point to ensure everyone who is entitled to inherit receives their rightful inheritance.
What if a beneficiary is bankrupt? This will need to be disclosed before any funds are distributed to them.
If a beneficiary who resides in England & Wales is bankrupt, the inheritance must be disclosed and used to pay off outstanding debts before being passed to the beneficiary. A global bankruptcy search will protect the Personal Representative(s) from later disputes and will ensure that any debt settlements do not take a higher priority when the estate funds are distributed.
Once again, it is vital to ensure all beneficiaries have been located so that all entitled beneficiaries inherit their share of the estate.
As mentioned above, there are a few tasks that can be undertaken to ensure this risk is mitigated:
Missing or unknown beneficiaries can be traced so that all who are due to inherit will receive their inheritance.
If a missing beneficiary cannot be located, missing beneficiary indemnity insurance can be provided.
To make sure that all entitled people are included, and unentitled people are excluded, the verification or reconstruction of the family tree can be undertaken.
If you still require assistance with the above at this stage, Title Research offers a variety of services to support you.
10. Production of the estate accounts
As part of the post-process tasks, a set of estate accounts must be prepared and any client funds that remain unclaimed must be justified.
If a client cannot be found, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) requires legal professionals to take all necessary steps to return unclaimed client funds and to provide evidence showing their efforts to trace the client.
Our dormant balances service can help to locate a current UK address, identifying any forwarding addresses and establishing if a client has passed away. If we can’t find a likely forwarding address or a likely death certificate for your client, our report will indicate this so that you can make alternative arrangements in accordance with your firm’s policies.
At Title Research, we provide trusted genealogical research and asset repatriation services for legal professionals. Everything we do is designed to streamline estate administration, to take the effort out of locating the correct people or assets, and to mitigate against the risk of future dispute or complications. We can help you at every stage of your clients’ estate administration process.
If you’re interested in finding out more about Title Research’s specialist services in both asset repatriation and genealogical research, call our Client Services Team on 0345 87 27 600 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.