The following is a true story written by A R K Consultant Julie, about her experience with probate.
Having been a member of the A R K Team for almost four years, I have come across a lot of people with difficult and challenging circumstances. Prior to joining A R K, I worked for HMRC for over 40 years. I am very experienced in all aspects of tax and have dealt with probate for both sets of our parents. I therefore expected to find dealing with the probate of my aunt and uncle who died last year fairly straightforward. How wrong I was!
My aunt and uncle were sister and brother who had lived on the family farm in Warwickshire all their lives. My aunt went into a care home several years ago and my uncle struggled on in the farmhouse on his own. Sadly, he had a stroke in March 2019 and also ended up in the same care home. He was unable to manage his affairs so my cousin and I, as his attorneys, stepped in. Thank goodness he had made both Health & Finance Lasting Powers of Attorney.
What we found was a total nightmare. We knew our uncle liked buying shares and investments but had no idea of the extent of these, or how very disorganised he was. Room after room in the farmhouse and even the garage were absolutely crammed with papers. They were in no particular order and dated back to the 1950s. Nothing had ever been filed or even put in date order. In amongst ancient farming magazines and every empty envelope he had ever opened were share certificates and other important information. It took weeks of sorting through everything to find out what we needed to keep and what was rubbish. Then next challenge was identifying what were still current assets and what had been sold or merged with a new company. Hours of googling names of companies of which I had never heard. It was like piecing together a giant jigsaw.
Sadly, whist we were still undertaking this mammoth task my uncle died in April 2020 from Covid. His sister in the same care home died two weeks later. As their Executors we thought that getting probate would not be quite so difficult as we had already got to grips with much of their financial affairs. However, it was still a huge amount of work. Getting valuations of the shares and other investments at the date of death was the first step, but often we did not know when the shares or investment trusts had been purchased or how much was paid for them, so getting valuations and calculating the Capital Gains tax due was a huge challenge. To our surprise most companies just do not keep information for long and were unable to help us.
In smaller probate cases where there are minimal amounts of investments and property, obtaining probate is still quite complex, and not easy for someone who does not come from a tax/law or financial background. We had the even more complex forms to complete as there was Inheritance Tax due on my uncle’s estate. I understand tax and the complex legislation surrounding it, but this was a new field even for me. Farmland and farm buildings in certain circumstances can be entitled to Agricultural Property Relief, woodlands can also be eligible for tax relief depending on their use. I had to research and learn all about those aspects of tax that were completely new to me. My aunt had been a partner in her family sports business so there was Small Business Relief to consider and calculate, as well as the normal Income tax, Capital Gains tax and completion of their tax returns.
There are two types of Inheritance tax forms (IHT) that are required. If there is no IHT to pay, then the forms are slightly less arduous as mentioned above, although an excellent understanding of tax and form filling is still required. It would be very easy to make a costly mistake, but If IHT is due, then the forms are really complex. Luckily although I did all the groundwork for the completion of these forms, we work closely with a very reputable law firm at A R K, who completed the Probate and IHT forms and submitted them on our behalf. I am pleased to say we got received Grant of Probate from The Probate Office around eight weeks from submission. All our hard work had finally paid off.
Looking back, I wish when we had been appointed as my uncle’s attorneys, we had asked questions and got the finances sorted out whilst he was still well enough to help us. We had to do so much work that was made so much harder by not being able to talk to him. Everyone knows that getting financial papers in order is a task they need to do, but often put it off. My advice would be to make sure you have a folder with details of all investments, property details, accounts with mobile phone providers, credit cards etc. Include account numbers and passwords. This could save weeks of work for your family and eliminate the danger that they will never find some of the assets you have. To this day we are not sure that we have found everything my uncle owned. Accounts or shares could be out there that we have not been able to identify and maybe never will.
The most important message from my recent experience though is to seek help and not struggle with it all yourself. Missing out some vital information or an incorrect calculation, could cost you far more than paying for some additional help with probate work.
To find out more about how A R K can help you regarding Probate and what you need to do to get organised for your family please read the following blog on our website and complete our ‘useful information about me’ template.