13th July 2022
The probate process of assessing, managing, and distributing the assets of a recently deceased person can be a complicated legal process that requires significant paperwork, time, and expertise. Certainly, it is possible for a non-legal professional to handle the entire process themselves, especially if the estate is small or simple. However, for those who have never encountered probate or similar legal issues before, it can be incredibly easy to underestimate the time needed and difficulty inherent in managing the process.
To make matters complicated, a well-intentioned person can easily find that they have caused serious damage either to the estate itself, the beneficiaries, or their own financial wellbeing by missing an easily overlooked step or committing a seemingly innocent error.
This article will explain and examine some of the more common mistakes and pitfalls that many amateurs make when attempting to complete the probate process.
1. Distributing Assets too Early
One of the realities of being an Executor is being able to deal with pressure from impatient beneficiaries to distribute assets as soon as possible. Beneficiaries are usually friends and family of the deceased, not legal experts, and may not realise just how long the probate process can be.
While the pressure to keep beneficiaries happy is real, distributing assets early can cause serious complications – if you’re distributing money from an account, for example, while also handling legal or tax paperwork, it can be remarkably easy to lose track of who has received how much money, and how the early loss of that money will affect the distribution of the remaining funds. Additionally, there’s always a possibility for unexpected complications or costs to arise later on in the probate process, and if the estate doesn’t have enough money to cover these issues because the funds have already been distributed, the Executor will be expected to pay these expenses out of pocket.
2. Failing to Record Everything
Executors are required by law to keep careful records and produce evidence of all financial transactions made to and from the estate. This includes money and financial assets like stocks and personal possessions. While an old family armchair may not seem that important compared to hundreds of thousands of pounds in a bank account, it can easily be a source of significant strife between beneficiaries (and by extension, the Executor). In particular, close attention must be paid while clearing out the house to ensure that all possessions are accounted for and recorded.
3. Mis-assessing Estate Liabilities and Debts
One of the common pitfalls of the probate process is missing an outstanding debt or liability the deceased may have had that isn’t readily obvious from the documentation they left behind. If the Executor didn’t complete their due diligence in tracking down all outstanding debts to the best of their ability, and a creditor appears later on, that creditor can pursue legal action against the Executor to recover the debt.
While many debts may be obvious because paperwork such as credit card statements are found with the deceased’s documentation, an asset and liability trace may be necessary to ensure that a full picture of what the deceased owed and owned are ascertained. Using a professional solicitor to help you with this step can be invaluable.
4. Failure to Locate All Beneficiaries
On occasion, some Wills bequeath assets to members of a class (e.g. heirs, family, relatives, and so on). In this case, rather than simply following instructions and distributing assets to a concise list of people who the Executor knows, he or she must trace all the beneficiaries so that every individual that is a member of that class is accounted for.
Here to Help
At Elizabeth Middleton Solicitors, we do more than simply offering probate, Will and Equity Release, we do so in a kind, caring and gentle way to help you deal with the death of a loved one. With nearly 20 years of experience and a long list of pleased past clients, trust us to take care of your probate needs.