We all know that the estate administration process can be a lengthy and time-consuming process. However, we believe there are four areas where a solicitor may potentially seek specialist support, resulting in an accelerated estate administration process for both the client and solicitor.
We have identified four areas which can be effectively outsourced to a specialist:
- Identifying all assets
- Transferring or selling overseas assets
- Identifying and verifying beneficiaries
- Bankruptcy searches
Identifying all assets
It is vital to ensure that all assets are identified when administering an estate. In doing so, you are maximising the estate for distribution for the beneficiaries. It also produces accurate information required to report to HMRC and avoid any delays later in the administration process. By inaccurately identifying the assets of an estate, the administration process can be held up which will delay distribution. Furthermore, if assets are found after distribution, this can cause a whole new series of issues.
Assets held overseas are becoming increasingly common. When administering an estate with assets held abroad, the earlier the process is started, the better for property and shares. Selling shares is much harder if listed overseas than on the UK stock market – especially if held in North America. This is when the Medallion Signature Guarantee stamp is required. Property owned overseas presents its own unique challenges. Obtaining specialist legal advice from someone who has experience of dealing with the relevant jurisdiction is essential. The costs of dealing with overseas property often come as a surprise to all concerned, not just the Executors. In particular, local taxes can be punitive and be a high percentage of the property value.
Identifying and verifying beneficiaries
Questions to ask when identifying and verifying the beneficiaries of the estate are:
- Have you made contact with all of the beneficiaries specifically named in the Deceased’s Will?
- If an intestacy, are you certain that the people you believe to be entitled, genuinely are?
The resources available to a specialist genealogist or people tracer have vastly increased over the last decade. However, before instructing someone to help you we do advise that you make some attempts yourselves. For example, writing to the last known address for the missing person to make certain that they have actually moved on. If the name is particularly unusual or distinctive then a simple internet search can sometimes yield results.
If these simple steps do not work, it is usually more cost effective and time efficient to instruct a specialist to do the tracing work for you.
When dealing with an intestacy, Title Research will always recommend that you obtain a professional verification of any family tree. Perhaps you rely on Statutory Declarations as proof of family relationships? A recent example from one of our clients may make you want to reconsider as the two sisters on an intestacy both neglected to mention their predeceasing brother – who had issue. It is quite possible that they didn’t understand the question they were being asked, and were not aware that his children would also be relevant. However, a professional verification would have ensured that any risk is mitigated.
Once all the assets are realised, it is time to distribute the funds. As best practice, The Law Society recommends carrying out bankruptcy searches against all beneficiaries before paying over any money to them. The risk here is that a Personal Representative may be held personally liable if they were to mistakenly pay out to a bankrupt instead of their Trustee. The process of completing a bankruptcy search in England and Wales is well known, but what if the beneficiary lives outside of England and Wales? Some jurisdictions have free online access to these records, however, most jurisdictions do not make it so easy and require a specific court application to be made with certain information and sometimes a release form signed by the beneficiary. It’s worth noting that unlike the UK, most overseas bankruptcy searches are only valid on the day the search was carried out, so it is important to undertake this work as close to the point of distribution as possible.
To learn more about the estate administration timeline and how Title Research’s  specialist services can help you administer an estate, register for the upcoming ‘Estate Administration Timeline’ webinar .