What Are Personal Representatives?
Personal Representatives (or PRs) are either:
the people named by someone in a Will to act as his/her executors and administer the Estate; or if no Will was left, the next of kin of the deceased are usually appointed to administer the Estate. They are known as administrators.
There are often two PRs, but one can act alone in certain circumstances, and a maximum of four may act together.
What Do PRs do?
It is their job to:
- find out the value of the deceased’s property and possessions (the Estate)
- report their findings to HMRC (Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs) and pay any inheritance tax due.
- swear an Oath that they are going to uphold the wishes in the Will or distribute an estate according to the intestacy rules
- pay, from the money in the Estate, any debts the deceased left unpaid (this may involve selling some items to raise cash)
- establish any trusts
- finalise any income tax or any inheritance tax affairs
- distribute what is left to those entitled to it (the beneficiaries)
- keep all papers and records for a minimum of 12 years
How Long Does This Take?
In some cases the process of winding up an Estate can be completed quite quickly – in a matter or months – if the Will is clear, if there is not much property involved, and the whereabouts of those entitled to it are known. It can take much longer, sometimes years, if, for example, beneficiaries cannot be traced. It can also take longer if a house has to be sold but a buyer cannot be found, or there are tax questions to resolve with the Inland Revenue.
Don’t PRs Have to Go to Court?
Unless the Estate is very small (say under £5,000) most PRs will need to obtain what is called a Grant of Representation from the Probate Registry of the High Court. Where PRs have the help of a Professional, the application for the grant is much simpler and can be done by swearing an oath at a local high street Solicitor. PRs can become involved in Court case proceedings if there is a serious dispute about the Estate.
What Is the Grant of Representation?
This is a document produced by the Probate Registry, which shows to those concerned that money and other items previously belonging to the deceased can safely be handed over to the PRs. To obtain it, PRs have to fill in a form and promise, by swearing an Oath, that they will administer the Estate properly.
A fee is payable (from the money in the Estate) to the Probate Registry. Where PRs have the help of a professional probate Advisor, all the paperwork will be taken care of by him/her.
What Is Meant by ‘Getting Probate?’
Literally, Probate means ‘proof’ that a Will is valid. Strictly speaking the term Probate only applies where the deceased left a Will but (despite the fact that most people actually die without leaving a Will) the term has come to be used to refer to all estates. The Grant an Executor gets is called the Grant of Probate, and an Administrator’s Grant is called Letters of Administration. Both Grants have broadly the same purpose and effect.
Is There A Difference Between Trustees and PRs?
Trustees hold money or property for other people (children, for example) and many of the legal requirements on Trustees apply to PRs. The PR’s position is slightly different though, as they are only in charge of someone’s Estate for a particular purpose – primarily to pay the deceased’s debts and hand the remainder over to the beneficiaries. PRs may become Trustees after the administration of an Estate has been completed if, for example the beneficiaries are still children under 18 years.
Must PRs Act If They Have Been Appointed In a Will, or If They Are Next of Kin?
No, they always have the choice. Choosing not to act as Executor is called renouncing and an Administrator who does not wish to act is passed over.
What If Someone Wants To Stop Being A PR?
Once administering an Estate has begun a PR cannot drop out if, for example, he or she has a change of mind or if things turn out to be more difficult than expected, but a PR can apply to retire for a good reason such as ill health. It is important to know in advance what being a PR involves. Always ask a Professional if advice is needed.
Will It Cost Me Anything To Act As A PR?
All PRs are entitled to get Professional help, and to have the bills related to the administration of the Estate paid from the money in the Estate. Professional bills must be fair and reasonable having regard to all the circumstances and can be checked.
Of course, if you get personal advice from a Professional – for example, about having investing what you have inherited – you will have to pay for this yourself in the ordinary way.