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Tips for executors to reduce stress, increase speed and tackle problems

Summary

  • Speak to the person before they die to get all the key information and documents.
  • Make sure they are honest with you, and can confide in you regarding anything they may fear could crop up
  • Make sure they have their “house in order” in terms of their paperwork
  • Get proper help with handling the estate and qualified valuations
  • Take control of the assets and insure them
  • Do not rush the estate distribution

1. Know what you are dealing with

Make sure you know if you are an Executor, and who else is acting alongside you. You need to be made aware of the death and act promptly. Appointing solicitors means they act for you collectively, and ensure that all the red tape is dealt with by institutions, so they can handle the formal Money Laundering identification of you and hold the original Will in safe custody to provide to the Court. Solicitors can do all the initial contact of the asset holders and where liabilities arise to gather all the key detail required in one fell swoop.

Solicitors can assist in interpreting the Will and identifying early any issues it may create, or potential claims against the estate. They can ensure that parties are contacted and, in some cases, traced if contact has been lost between the deceased and beneficiaries. In some cases the next generation may be entitled to inherit where the original beneficiary has died.

Ensure that you have a full and complete list of all the assets and liabilities. If the person making a Will has left a confidential list with all the account numbers and contacts – all the better.

Check on whether there are assets abroad, or ones which have been dormant for years or in the name of another estate which was never properly transferred.

2. Access key documents and dates now

If applicable, try to encourage the person to have made an appointment of a Digital Executor and leave instructions as to how to deal with social media accounts and data stored on devices. Have a good knowledge of all the devices – make, model and provider so that their terms and conditions are known.

If you are making claims for a Transferable Nil Rate Band, Residence Nil Rate Band, and/or Transferable Residence Nil Rate Band you will need information at your fingertips. This means details of the first spouse to die (and importantly the handling of their estate) and information from a marriage certificate for example.

There are some claims for tax relief which can be made – but they are not automatically given and a formal claim must be submitted. Evidence to support such a claim must be readily available.

Check that Income Tax and Capital Gains Tax to the date of death have been dealt with. When focusing on Inheritance Tax these other taxes tend to get forgotten and a large tax bill can arrive months later when funds have been paid out.

If they were in receipt of Means Tested Benefits – know what they were. Have the dates and amounts and information on change of circumstances (going into hospital or Care Home, the length of the stay and their National Insurance number). The Department of Work and Pensions Debt Recovery Team will frequently ask for historical information and financial statements – so don’t throw anything away!

If possible, it makes life easier if the person making their Will has property which is formally registered with H M Land Registry. First registration was phased in gradually, so if a property has changed hands or had some formal dealing with it from the 1990s onwards – it is likely to be registered.

However, it is still possible that property hasn’t had any formal dealings and the former paper hard copy deeds dictate its ownership information. Getting a Voluntary First Registration done while the person making the Will is alive does make dealing with it post death far easier. You are able to monitor and protect it more easily, and any issues over boundaries and the like can be cleared up more easily when the person is alive and can give their knowledge and evidence.

It may be time to get Life Safe®

If you have been made an executor then Life Safe can help you to prepare, organise and collate all the necessary documents. It is a secure, online portal to store all your legal documents in one place, saving you time and stress. Find out more.

3. Be prepared for delay but don’t be tempted to rush things

Make sure you have all the information. You are responsible for making full and accurate enquiries and will be penalised if you don’t. Do not guess at values, or give best estimates. You have duties to H M Revenue and Customs together with the beneficiaries and creditors.

Be sure you have the correct beneficiaries. If there is no Will, we advise to use specialist genealogists to do a family tree checker. You don’t want to distribute the estate and find an unknown relative steps forward for their entitlement and you hold no funds.

Make sure that the person making the Will is completely honest. If there is a child who is estranged, a divorce they never got round to formalising, or a partner who nobody is aware of – get them to tell you in confidence.

You must ensure that H M Revenue & Customs are in full agreement with your
submitted account, the payment (or not) of Inheritance Tax and claims you are seeking to make and any adjustments you make later on. They are entitled to question points and will require professional valuations. They may also ask specialist teams to investigate values further. For example the District Valuer (a special RICS surveyor acting for the Government) may look into the value of any bricks and mortar.

There are claims you can submit for loss relief, but certain conditions and timescales need to be adhered to.

Even if beneficiaries place pressure on you to distribute funds – make sure you do so only when you are confident that no further claims or expenses arise. Asking for money back can be a hard task, and if they don’t pay up you are personally liable. The Court and HMRC can take a while to process the application, asset holders can take a while to produce full disclosure, DWP may make enquiries – do not expect this to be “quick and easy”.

4. Obtain Death Certificates (and check them!)

A few things to think about when it comes to death certificates:

  • It is best to get several copies of the Death Certificate. These are often requested by multiple organisations or other asset holders, and means you will have enough to retain a copy for safe-keeping. It is quicker and cheaper to request extra copies at the outset.
  • Make sure that the deceased’s name and any alias they were known by or held assets in the name of are listed accurately on the certificate.
  • If their cause of death has been found to relate to an accident, negligence, industrial injury or Covid-19 then check it is recorded on the certificate as it is often possible for a claim to be brought on behalf of the estate where financial loss or injury occurred prior to the death. Specialist solicitors can help in this respect so please do ask about this if you would like to understand more about the circumstances of the death, as we have teams who can assist with the inquest process and any related complaints/claims which may follow.
  • If the deceased was a Key Worker and died due to Covid-19, either directly or indirectly, make sure their profession is accurately described on the certificate
    If you have any concerns about the circumstances of the death then it is wise to keep a copy of contemporaneous information and to note down the timeline of events leading up to their death

5. Recognise that Lasting Powers of Attorney, ordinary powers of attorney and Third Party Mandates are null and void on death

If you or someone else operated a Lasting Power of Attorney, ordinary power of attorney or Third Party Mandate- these are null and void the moment a person dies.

The LPA must be returned to the Office of the Public Guardian for cancellation.
Even with the best of intentions – people must not keep using these documents to handle the estate after the death. The Executor(s) (term used if there is a Will) or Administrator(s) (term used on intestacy) must step in instead. However, anyone handling the financial affairs of the deceased will be key in providing information. They must not throw anything away and should be able to produce statements, receipts and accounts.

6. Be ready to do some forensic analysis of gifting and trust creation

Having just the snapshot at the date of death is not enough. You must know what they did leading up to their death which impacts the Nil Rate Band. Mainly this will involve knowing what gifts/transfers they made in the seven years prior to death, but sometimes you need to go back further.

If they created trusts, or benefited from them, you will need this detail too. Old bank statements may be helpful, but getting the person who made the Will to record all such transactions is best. If other trusts are involved – get copies of the Trust Deed and details of the Trustee contacts.

7. Professional valuations

Only those property equipped and qualified can value assets. Doing an informal search based on a postcode, share value in today’s paper, or guessing a bureau holds no value will not cut the mustard with HMRC or beneficiaries.

With house contents, it is best to get these properly valued and an inventory of the content compiled.

Shares needs proper valuation, and solicitor teams can help with arranging formal valuation, notification to the Registrars and stock transfer forms if necessary.

Do not overlook the fact that any valued placed on an asset at death will be its base value going forward for Capital Gains Tax. This may be relevant for the period of administration tax, or individual beneficiaries’ tax and estate planning.

Paid for valuations are an administration expenses met from the estate – not by you personally. They are also expected by HMRC.

8. Protection of assets

You are responsible for their assets on death. This means ensuring property and assets are adequately insured, and that the insurers are notified of the death and that you are executor. Do not be tempted to let this slip, as the most valuable assets could be at risk and unprotected.

Some horror stories arise where people are moving vehicles uninsured, carrying out works at an uninsured property, there are break ins or flooding.

9. Production of clear, concise and accurate accounting

Waste paper to make sense! You must gather all papers, statements, certificates and copy correspondence.

If you are starting lists, keep these, even when you change values. You then have a clear audit trail.

Keep a record of expenses you incur, and retain receipts.

10. Pay tax by deadlines and ensure you are paying enough

Some assets can have the tax due paid by instalments – others not so.

  • Make sure you know what you are handling and which tax exemptions and reliefs you should be claiming.
  • Make sure that you know how tax is to be paid and when, so that interest and penalties do not rack up.
  • It is best to “over egg the pudding” than pay too little and have interest applied.
  • HMRC will refund any over-payment of tax when agreed.

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