Dealing with the legalities of the estate after partner has died.

  • 5 replies
  • 10 subscribers
  • 762 views

I hope this is the right section of the forum to post this question.
My partner for over 30 years died of cancer last weekend. We had intended to marry and had obtained a special licence but she died suddenly before the planned wedding date and with no time to get Register Office staff over to perform the wedding (they did try, but she became unresponsive). We had arranged with Macmillan to have a will written over the phone but that went wrong too: the will service company ignored the request to do it over the phone and sent us paperwork in the post that arrived a few days after my partner died.
So the situation is this: she has gone. I am - in the eyes of the law - no-one. We do have a son (9 years old) who should inherit her estate, and I assume that I will be the guardian who manages his estate, as his surviving parent. However, I can't find any clear guidance on how I proceed to do this. The probate web site won't let me proceed, as I'm not related to the deceased. A friend has done some research and thinks I don't need to go through probate anyway, as her estate is "excepted". I may have to set up a trust for my son, but I don't know how to do that. It may be that I have to apply for a "grant of letters of administration" from the Probate Office, but I haven't found out how to do that either. Presumably once I get that done, I can start contacting my partner's banks. There is also something about me being classed as a "personal representative" but I'm not sure where that comes in.
I've registered the death, used the government "Tell Us Once" service and applied for a Bereavement Payment. The DWP have contacted me about this and  - apart from having to jump through some hoops regarding getting the Child Tax Credit transferred to my name - that seems to be on track. I've also found out how to get our jointly-owned home into my name only via the Land Registry. (That's a big relief!)
I'm finding it very difficult to find advice online or elsewhere about my particular situation. Attempts to contact Macmillan so far have failed (too many "gatekeepers" preventing me from contacting them).

I could get a solicitor to do all this for me, apart from one thing: I'm skint! (I've had bad experience with solicitors too, so don't trust them.)

Can anyone advise me on the steps I need to take to get through all this? It's quite awful to be in this situation on top of grieving for my partner and looking after our child.

  • The probate process says I need to work out the value of the estate first, but surely I need to have letter of administration before I can even contact my partner's banks to find out? Catch 22!

  • Hello ,

    Thanks for getting in touch. I’m so sorry for your loss and the issues you’re facing trying to sort out the estate. I first want to apologise for the length of time taken for this response, due to a technical issue we didn’t get an alert about your post. I also want to apologise for the issues you had with both the will and trying to contact Macmillan. This has all been raised with our feedback team, so they’re aware of the issues that’ve happened.

    Before I run through some information with you, I’d just like to say this may be easier to discuss over a phone call due to the complexity involved. If you feel up to it, we have a financial guidance team that can go over all this. They can be reached on 0808 808 0000 and are open between 8am and 6pm Monday to Friday. If you call, just select option 1, then 2 and then 1 again. I appreciate you’ve had issues trying to call us but hopefully you’ll get through next time.

    You’ve mentioned probate and letters of administration, which is English and Wales law, so I’ll assume you’re based there but if this isn’t the case, please let me know as the law for Scotland and Northern Ireland is different.
     
    The personal representative or representatives are responsible for sorting out an estate of the person who has died. This includes gathering in any money owed, paying off any debts and distributing any money to those who’ll inherit. When someone dies with no will in place it’s the law of intestacy which determines who’ll inherit. The person who has died is referred to as being intestate.

    As you’re aware under the law of intestacy, only married or civil partners and some other close relatives can inherit. As there’s no legal spouse then your partners child/children will inherit the whole estate to themselves or divided equally between them if there is more than one child.  

    If there are assets in your partners sole name which exceed certain limits, a document may be needed to access bank accounts, life assurances and sell assets such as houses, cars and other possessions. This document is called a Grant of Probate (if there’s a will) or Letters of Administration (if there isn’t a will). Often, it’s referred to as ‘grant of representation’. Usually, it’s a relative of the deceased who can apply for letters of administration and the best place to seek advice about who this would be is the Inheritance Tax and Probate Helpline. They can be contacted on 0300 123 1072 which is open Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm. Or visit their website:

     www.gov.uk/wills-probate-inheritance/overview

    Just so you are aware there is no requirement to use a solicitor to apply for letters of administration.

    It’s worth noting that some assets can pass directly to the beneficiaries without the need for Letters of Administration, such as:

    • Joint bank accounts
    • Property held as joint tenants
    • The pay out from a life assurance policy which is held in trust
    • Usually a lump sum from a pension scheme will go directly to who the person who died has nominated

     

    You mention you both owned the house jointly, so usually this means you’ll inherit the whole of the property, and it should be passed to you outside of your partners estate. You don’t normally need probate to deal with the property if it’s owned as ‘Joint Tenants’.


    Banks and other financial institutions

    Sometimes, when the estate is small, letters of administration aren't needed. Financial organisations set their own limit under which they’ll not ask for probate.  In these cases, the assets held with that particular organisation can usually be accessed by providing the death certificate and the will of the person who died (if there is one). It might be worth searching for the telephone number of the ‘bereavement service’ for the banks your partner held accounts with. You could ask them what documentation they require for you to deal with the account.

    There is also a Death Notification Service available that a lot of the major banks have signed up to. The idea being that the person sorting out the estate or registering the death can notify a number of banks and building societies at the same time. There’s more information about this service here: https://www.deathnotificationservice.co.uk/

    After letters of administration

    Should you need letters of administration, the personal representative(s) can access bank accounts and sell assets such as houses, cars and other possessions.  

    The personal representative(s) can open an executor’s bank account to receive any funds and use these to pay off any debts.  A separate account is sometimes needed as the beneficiaries, not the executors, are entitled to any interest earned.

    Once the personal representative(s) are happy there are enough funds to cover any debts or any expenses incurred (for example, legal fees), the personal representative(s) can share out the estate to the beneficiaries.

    It's important that personal representative(s) keep records. This allows them to show detailed accounts of all the assets and liabilities and prove how funds were distributed to the beneficiaries.

    Regarding setting up trusts for your son, this can be a very complicated subject and it is generally suggested to seek professional advice for this. You can find solicitors in your area with the below details.

    For those living in England & Wales: www.lawsociety.org.uk/find-a-solicitor/

    Or phone 020 7320 5650

    For further information on trusts, please visit: https://www.gov.uk/trusts-taxes


    I do appreciate that this is a lot to take in and that you’ve had issues with solicitors in the past. There are some legal services that you may be able to access for free advice.

    It’s worth knowing that membership of a union, or staff federation may include legal services.

    Packaged bank accounts may also offer a legal helpline and some insurance policies such as car or home insurance may have a legal helpline as an additional benefit. So, it’s worth checking the terms and conditions.


    I hope this provides you with a bit of helpful information. If you have any further questions or would like to discuss things such as mortgages or pensions, then please don’t hesitate to get back in touch. 

    Yours Sincerely, 

      

    Chris H 
    Financial Guide 

      

     

     

    The Financial Guidance Service will not advise you on the merits of buying, selling, cancelling or making a claim on a specific financial product from any company or otherwise provide you with any regulated services. As a guidance service, we do not provide financial advice or carry on other activities that are regulated and we are not authorised or regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. No part of our service constitutes, nor is intended to constitute, a financial promotion within the meaning of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 nor an invitation or inducement to engage in investment activity. 

     

    The aim of the Financial Guidance Service is to provide you with information to help you make informed decisions about your personal finances. For financial advice, including recommendations to buy, sell, cancel or make a claim on specific financial products or to obtain any other type of financial services, you should speak to a financial adviser or company who is permitted to provide you with those services. You can find a local financial advice firm or other type of firm who provides regulated services on the Financial Conduct Authority's website - https://register.fca.org.uk/directory/s/. 

     

    The information that we provide you is for general guidance on your rights and responsibilities and is not legal advice. We are not liable to you for any information or services obtained by you from, or given to you by, a third party. 

  • Thanks for the very detailed reply Chris.
    Since posting, I've been in contact with the HMRC probate helpline (I found them mentioned on a CAB web page). Very difficult to get past the robotic gatekeeper, but once I did a nice lady on the team helped me out. She was very knowledgeable and recommended that I apply for Power of Attorney AND Letters of Administration, using forms PA12 and PA1A respectively, and that I could send them both in at the same time. She explained that in the case of a minor, the PA12 would need to have the names of at least TWO applicants, with at least one of them having parental responsibility (me).
    She recommended that I contact the HMCTS helpline to check on some of these issues. An operator there confirmed what had been said by HMRC.
    I've started to fill in these forms, using the online Inheritance Tax Checker to guide me in entering the values. PA1A also seems to want some IHT form, which I need to clarify.
    Both organisations have said I can phone them back for more guidance on the forms and the process, but in both cases attempts to contact them again failed - long on-hold times (and I have a child to look after, so had to give up after about half an hour on hold).
    I contacted the bank that holds my partner's Current Account. Their bereavement support team was very helpful (and I was connected easily without the usual long wait on hold). The operator there told me that there are cases where they can release funds without probate. In my case, there my partner has a surviving Uncle, but he is in his 80s and would be unable to fulfil the role of administrator. However, the bank suggested that he could contact them by phone and give permission for me to act on behalf of the estate in managing the funds in the account. I've spoken to the Uncle (who I know well) and he is happy to do this.
    So there is some progress at last!
    I will try the Macmillan Financial Guidance Team as well, as they may have some other ideas on how to proceed.
    One thing I have noticed is that there seems to be very little information on the web about this sort of scenario, so hopefully this post may be found by others in the same boat.

  • Hello again  ,

    Thanks for sharing your experience and hopefully anyone else in a similar situation will find your post.

    Should you need anything else please do give us a call.

    All the best,

    Chris H 
    Financial Guide 

      

    The Financial Guidance Service will not advise you on the merits of buying, selling, cancelling or making a claim on a specific financial product from any company or otherwise provide you with any regulated services. As a guidance service, we do not provide financial advice or carry on other activities that are regulated and we are not authorised or regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. No part of our service constitutes, nor is intended to constitute, a financial promotion within the meaning of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 nor an invitation or inducement to engage in investment activity. 

     

    The aim of the Financial Guidance Service is to provide you with information to help you make informed decisions about your personal finances. For financial advice, including recommendations to buy, sell, cancel or make a claim on specific financial products or to obtain any other type of financial services, you should speak to a financial adviser or company who is permitted to provide you with those services. You can find a local financial advice firm or other type of firm who provides regulated services on the Financial Conduct Authority's website - https://register.fca.org.uk/directory/s/. 

     

    The information that we provide you is for general guidance on your rights and responsibilities and is not legal advice. We are not liable to you for any information or services obtained by you from, or given to you by, a third party. 

  • Update: I managed to get back in touch with the probate helpline (the number given on the form). An operator there helped me with more sticking points.
    There was no need to fill in the IHT form sections on PA1A as my partner died after a certain date  and I had the estate figures in another section after running through the online IHT checker.
    The beneficiary's signature on the back of form PA12 can be signed by myself (as the beneficiary's parent) as long as I also write on that I am the parent and legal guardian (I think that's what he said).
    There is a possibility that I may be able to claim help with the £273 fee, being of low income. Not sure where to do this though.