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3 Common Issues Faced in Probate

31 May 2024
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Probate is a legal process through which a deceased person’s estate is managed and distributed. While it serves an essential function, ensuring that debts are paid and assets are distributed according to the deceased’s wishes, it can also be fraught with challenges and contrasting emotions. At Cullens of Surrey, we provide a range of probate-based services, assisting you when it comes to dealing with the valuation and clearance of an estate for probate, but what other issues might you come across?

What Is the Probate Process, and Why Is It Needed?

The probate process is a legal procedure through which a deceased person's estate is settled and distributed. This process ensures that the deceased's debts are paid, and the remaining assets are distributed to the rightful beneficiaries according to the Will or rules of intestacy if there is no Will. Probate is needed for several reasons, such as;

  • Legal Validation - Probate validates the will, ensuring it is the true last testament of the deceased and that it was executed properly.
  • Debt Settlement - Probate validates the will, ensuring it is the true last testament of the deceased and that it was executed properly.
  • Orderly Asset Distribution - Probate provides a structured process for distributing the deceased's assets, minimising disputes among heirs and beneficiaries.
  • Legal Authority - It grants the executor the legal authority to manage and distribute the estate’s assets, ensuring that these actions are legally recognised and binding.

3 Of the Most Common Probate Issues

Asset Valuation

Accurate asset valuation is critical for the fair distribution of the estate, but it can be a complex process with several tricky factors to navigate. Fortunately, Cullens of Surrey can assist you throughout this stage of probate, since we can accurately value or clear any assets within the deceased’s estate. Let's take a deeper look at why asset valuation can be challenging:

  • Hidden or Undisclosed Assets - Identifying all assets owned by the deceased can be difficult, especially if they were secretive about their holdings or if records are incomplete. Hidden or undisclosed assets can lead to delays and potential disputes among beneficiaries.
  • Fluctuating Values - The value of certain assets, such as real estate, stocks, or collectables, can fluctuate over time. Determining the appropriate value at the time of death and at the time of distribution can be challenging and contentious.
  • Disagreements on Valuation Methods - Different parties might have different opinions on how to value certain assets. For example, valuing a family-owned business or unique collectables can be subjective and lead to disputes if beneficiaries cannot agree on a fair valuation method.

Will Disputes

Will disputes are among the most contentious issues in probate. These disputes arise when beneficiaries, family members, or other interested parties challenge the validity of the Will. However, to find a suitable resolution to a Will dispute, the use of a solicitor is important, and court sessions may be likely to ensure a legal and fair outcome. Several factors can lead to Will disputes:

  • Undue Influence - One of the primary reasons for contesting a Will is the allegation that the deceased was subjected to undue influence. This claim suggests that someone manipulated the testator (the person who made the Will) to benefit from the Will at the expense of other potential heirs.
  • Lack of Testamentary Capacity - Another common ground for Will disputes is the assertion that the testator lacked the mental capacity to understand the implications of the Will when it was created. This can be due to illness, dementia, or other conditions affecting mental clarity.
  • Fraud or Forgery - Claims of fraud or forgery can also lead to Will disputes. This includes scenarios where the signature on the Will is believed to be forged or the contents of the Will were altered without the testator’s knowledge.

Executor Issues

The executor plays a crucial role in managing the estate during probate. Our probate services are designed to support executors who are managing estate and asset valuations, as well as the clearing of unwanted assets within the estate. We’re transparent in the way we work, and communication is present throughout, so all beneficiaries can be informed during each step of the valuation process. However, several issues can arise concerning the executors themselves during this process:

  • Conflict of Interest - Executors who are also beneficiaries might face accusations of prioritising their interests over those of other beneficiaries. This conflict of interest can lead to disputes and claims of unfair treatment.
  • Breach of Fiduciary Duty - Executors have a fiduciary duty to act in the best interests of the estate and its beneficiaries. If an executor is found to be mismanaging assets, failing to follow the terms of the Will, or engaging in fraudulent activities, they can be removed and held legally accountable.
  • Communication Breakdown - Poor communication between the executor and beneficiaries can lead to mistrust and conflicts. Beneficiaries may feel left out of the loop or suspicious of the executor’s actions, resulting in disputes.

Avoiding Further Issues - How Can Cullens of Surrey Help?

The asset valuation stage of the probate process is crucial, and if this stage is completed accurately, disputes regarding the Will can be minimised, as well as disagreements between beneficiaries and executors. Accurate asset valuation also has a particularly important link to the inheritance tax (IHT) paid for an estate; underestimating asset values can result in penalties and interest charges, while overestimating can unnecessarily reduce the beneficiaries’ inheritance.

At Cullens of Surrey, we’re vastly experienced in asset valuations during the probate process, ensuring families receive the most accurate valuation possible for each asset, no matter the complexity. Over the years, we have compiled an expert team to assist you with the probate process including our partner solicitors, estate agents, and auction house. This “all-in-one” approach is designed to take the stress away from what is already an emotional time, giving you peace of mind that the assets of your loved one are being expertly handled. 

Cullens of Surrey can also provide a full independent Probate Contents Valuation and Probate Report required for Inheritance Tax liability, ready to be sent to HMRC. This is an important document to complete, so rest assured that we can handle this for you while you’re completing other important post-death tasks.

Let Us Help Reduce the Stress Caused By Probate

Probate can be a stressful and emotional time, which is why we’re committed to providing the best probate services possible, for every individual we work with. Please get in touch with us to discuss the support you need, and how we can help. 

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