Sheffield Wills and Probate Solicitors

Did you know that only three of every ten adults in Britain have a Will?

No one likes to think about their death but having a well-written Will can give you the comfort of knowing your loved ones will be looked after when you are gone, and that your assets will be distributed the way you want them to be. Spencers Solicitors have been serving the community for more than four decades and as Sheffield Wills and Probate solicitors they can help with everything from writing a Will including trusts, Lasting Power of Attorneys, Court of Protection to overseeing the administration of your estate as executors.

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Why is it important to have a Will?

We cannot stress how important it is that you make a valid Will. Even if you are young, fit and healthy, life can take unexpected turns which may mean your loved ones are left with little or nothing in the event of your death. If you have assets, then you should have a Will. Dying without a Will, called being intestate, means you have no say in who will inherit your property.

Some clients we speak to who do not have a Will mistakenly assume their partner will inherit their estate, or that verbally expressing their wishes to your next of kin will be enough. Unfortunately, neither of these is true. Here are some facts about Wills you may find surprising:

  • Your spouse or partner will not necessarily inherit your entire estate
  • If you are estranged from your spouse but still legally married, they can inherit the majority of your estate
  • A surviving partner (not married or in a civil partnership) has no automatic claim to your assets
  • The law decides who inherits your assets if you do not leave a Will so someone that you did not want to inherit could end up inheriting your entire estate.
  • If the estate is worth less than £250,000, the entire estate goes to your legal spouse with no provision for your children
  • If the estate is worth more than £250,000, this amount goes to the surviving spouse with the remainder being split 50% to the surviving spouse and 50% divided equally amongst surviving children, or amongst their grandchildren, if they have predeceased you

Another disadvantage of dying intestate is that it takes much longer for your estate to be finalised which could mean your loved ones struggle financially during this time.

Making a Will

The process of making a will is relatively straightforward with the help of a Wills and Probate solicitor who understands the process. They will ensure your Will is prepared and executed correctly and that:

  • You understand what you are signing, and you are not being coerced or forced into agreeing to the Will’s contents
  • You can sign a legal document - that is, that you are not under the age of 18 or mentally incapacitated
  • You sign in the presence of two witnesses, both of whom are present at the same time and neither of them are beneficiaries

You should always get professional legal advice from a solicitor when making a Will, particularly if you own property with someone who is not your spouse or civil partner. It also is sensible to ask for guidance if you have children from other marriages or relationships and don’t want them to inherit equally, you want to make financial provision for a particular person who is not your spouse or child, or you have overseas assets.

What Does an Executor Do?

The executor of a Will is the person charged with the responsibility of administering the estate of the testator on their death. They will:

  • Make sure the death has been registered and the death certificate issued
  • Send a copy of the death certificate to any organisation where the testator had money or assets and requests an accurate valuation, details of any interest or income earned during the current tax year.
  • Requests all accounts be frozen to ensure no assets are removed without the correct legal authority
  • Obtain information of all of the estate’s debtors and creditors
  • Prepare a full list of all money, property, debts, and outstanding loans
  • Open a bank account in the name of the estate
  • Submit a tax return on behalf of the estate and pay any tax due
  • Request a Grant of Probate
  • Calculate and pay inheritance tax
  • Pay all debts including legal fees, probate fees, and Executor expenses
  • Distribute the estate as per the Will or as per intestacy laws

Managing an estate can be complex and time-consuming, especially if the estate is in debt after all bills are calculated, or there are complicated clauses regarding businesses and trusts. It is not uncommon for an Executor to enlist a specialist Wills and Probate solicitor to carry out these tasks on their behalf. Spencers Solicitors will deal efficiently with all aspects of handling probate and estate administration. Talk to our team today to find out more about how we can help you if you are an Executor.

Making a claim against an Estate where you have not been made a Beneficiary

In addition to helping people write Wills and administer estates, Spencers Solicitors can assist if you want to make a claim against an estate. You do not have to be a nominated beneficiary to contest a Will, but you do have to be either:

  • Husband, Wife or Civil Partner for at least 2 years
  • A former spouse or civil partner who has not remarried and who did not have a financial settlement as part of the divorce
  • Financially dependent on the deceased to maintain a reasonable standard of living
  • A biological child, adopted child, or stepchild

There are other reasons that you can dispute a Will for example:

  • It may be invalid due to it being incorrectly witnessed
  • The person making the Will did not understand what they were doing (lacked capacity to make the Will)
  • The person making the Will may have been unduly influenced.
  • The Will that has been used was not their last Will
  • The Will that has been used is void due to a later marriage
  • The Will was drawn up incorrectly

Each case is considered by the court on it’s own merits and being in the above category will not automatically mean that your claim will be successful. The court will consider the nature of the claim, the relationship of the claimant to the testator, the effect that granting the claim will have on the other beneficiaries, and any financial responsibility the testator has towards the claimant and the beneficiaries.

There are several reasons a person may raise a claim against an estate. One of the most common causes is when a person feels they have not been provided for adequately in the estate. This reason is covered under the Inheritance Act 1975, which allows six months from when the Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration are issued for a person to start a claim. A beneficiary who is making a claim against an estate has 12 years from the date of the death to make a claim, while there is no time limit if someone is disputing a Will on the belief that is fraudulent.

While we always advise executors to apply for a Grant of Probate as soon as practical, it can be more beneficial for those challenging the Will to do so before probate is issued. We can help you apply for a caveat to be placed on the estate so no assets can be disposed of until your challenge is resolved.

An example where a Will was challenged featured the sibling of a woman who inherited their mother’s entire estate. The disinherited sibling contested the Will and requested the estate be divided equally between the siblings. The sister named as the beneficiary and frequently visited her mother, undertaking household chores, and driving her mother to social events and medical appointments as she did not feel confident on public transport.

The disinherited sibling had not spoken to their mother for several years, lived abroad, and was financially independent. The sibling contested the Will on the belief that their mother had been coerced into changing her will to favour the sister. The claim was investigated and witness statements were taken, but all evidence showed that the mother was not under any pressure to disinherit her other child, or that she did not understand what she was signing. The court ruled in favour of the original beneficiary.

Wills and Probate FAQ

Here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions we receive about Wills and probate.

Call Spencers Solicitors today on 01246 266637, or fill in our enquiry form to request a call back. Our expert advisors will be happy to answer any initial enquiry you have about Wills and Probate management including whether you may have legal grounds to dispute a Will.

A Grant of Probate is a certificate is issued in recognition that the Will is legal and valid. You don’t need to obtain Probate if the value of the estate is less than £5,000 cash. If the value of assets is greater than this, or the assets are held in the form of property, shares, pension, or business, you will need to obtain a Grant of Probate (or Letters of Administration, in the situation of intestacy) from the court.

Financial institutions can set their own limits for requiring Probate, and you need to be a nominated Executor, or acting on behalf of them, to apply for it. Without a Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration, you will not be able to administrate the estate.

Probate, the act of administering an estate, typically takes six to nine months. It can take longer if the estate is complicated or if a beneficiary or potential beneficiary contests the will.

The Executor is responsible for ensuring all the tax returns submitted are correct, and that all creditors receive payments. Executors can be personally liable if they do not take any action required to protect the value of assets or if they do not pay all of the estate’s bills correctly and on time.

It is possible to challenge the way an executor is managing the estate or how they interpret the instructions in the Will. You can also make a claim against an executor if you believe they have been fraudulent in the statement of accounts, for example, if they have not reported or undervalued certain assets, or if you suspect they are charging the estate excessive fees for personal gain.

An executor must follow the instructions in the Will. It is not for them to decide whether the distribution of assets is unfair and should be altered, or to make moral judgements. They can use their discretion if there are not specific instructions about when or how assets can be sold, but they need to be careful not to be negligent in protecting the value of them.

There are times when instructions in a will are vague or contradictory. An executor can use their judgement though they should be very careful about providing evidence to support their decision in case their actions are contested by a beneficiary. We always recommend people have a Will professionally drawn up to avoid any ambiguity in their wishes, and contact us if they are an Executor who faces a situation where the Will's instructions are unclear.

A Will does not need to be prepared by a solicitor for it to be legally binding. However, DIY wills are often less robust and more easily challenged as people without a legal background are not always aware of the necessary requirements.

You do not need a lawyer to help you administer an estate, but many people choose to as the executor can be personally held liable for any errors. Also, managing an estate can be time-consuming and it can be difficult to fit responsibilities into working hours.

Why Choose Spencers Solicitors?

At Spencers Solicitors we are fearlessly committed to our clients and ensuring that their best interests are central to everything we do. To maintain this focus, we request client feedback at the conclusion of every case we handle. By sharing the responses we receive, you'll find out why clients choose Spencers Solicitors to deal with their legal issues.

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