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Wills, trusts, tax and probate

Wills and probate FAQ

With our user guides and FAQs we want to make the law surrounding wills and probate more accessible and easy to understand. If your question remains unanswered, we provide legal expertise for wills and probate and will be happy to assist.

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How is the estate defined?

If you total all of your assets (held in your sole name and the value of your share of assets held as tenants in common) this figure is known as your 'gross estate'. If you take this figure and less any outstanding debts and liabilities (including funeral costs following death), this provides your 'net estate'.

Your estate can include the following:

  • Property
  • Investments
  • Bank accounts
  • Art
  • Household contents and personal chattels
  • Digital assets, such as music, film collections or Bitcoins
  • Books
  • Any assets held in joint names with another do not form part of your estate as these assets will pass automatically to the survivor.

Read or guide here, on why you may want to make a will.

What is an administrator of an estate?

The administrator or executor is responsible for identifying and collecting in assets, identifying and paying any debts from the estate and then distributing the estate according to the will or according to the rules of intestacy The difference between an executor and an administrator is the following:

  • Executor: Appointed by the deceased person in their will.
  • Administrator: Appointed by court according to the relationship status to the deceased person. An administrator appointed by court is necessary, if the executor appointed by the deceased person is unwilling or unable to act, if the deceased person did not appoint an executor or if the deceased person died intestate.

For more information on the duties of executors and administrators, see our guide here.

Can a will be contested?

Yes, a will can be contested for the following reasons:

  • Lack of due execution
  • Lack of testamentary capacity
  • Lack of knowledge and approval
  • Undue coercion

This list is not exhaustive. If you suspect the will of the deceased person does not represent their intentions, contact us for further information. You may find it useful to read our guide on contesting a will.

What happens to debts?

Any debts and liabilities will be paid from the value of the estate. What is left after paying debts, liabilities, funeral costs and administrative and testamentary expenses will be shared among the beneficiaries according to the will of the deceased person.

I am the administrator - can I be held liable?

Yes, as an administrator or executor, you can be held personally liable for mistakes that you make. If the will and the estate are not straightforward we recommend getting advice from our legal experts.

For more information on the duties of executors and administrators, see our guide.

I own property overseas - is it covered in my will?

While dividing your assets within the UK might be straightforward, it's much more complicating if property or assets overseas are involved. If this is the case, your will might have to be valid for other countries as well and you might have to consider laws from another country. If you have assets in England and Wales and abroad, we strongly recommend you speak with our specialist solicitors to discuss your individual needs.

Reasons for making a will as a parent

You don't need to wait until you are elderly to first start thinking about a will. If you have children of your own, you should have a will in place to avoid unintended financial problems and emotional distress for your children. If you have step-children whom you'd wish to leave a gift to you must write a will.

When writing a will as a parent, consider the following:

  • Who should be the guardian to your children until they are 18?
  • Who should receive money and property?
  • Who will manage your money in a trust until your beneficiaries are old enough to manage it themselves?

If you die without a valid will in place you are said to have died 'intestate' and the intestacy rules will come into effect. These are strict rules, which define who benefits from your estate. Step-children do not automatically inherit your estate under the rules of intestacy. This can potentially cause family hardship and dispute. Read more about the intestacy law in our guide.

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