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The Personal Representative’s Guide

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 is left, the nearest blood relatives of the deceased are usually appointed to administer the estate.  They are known as Administrators.

There are usually two PRs, but one can act alone and a maximum of four people can act together.

What do PRs do?

It is their job :-

  • to find out the value of the deceased's property and possessions (the estate);
  • to pay, from the money in the estate, any debts the deceased left unpaid (this may involve selling some items to raise cash);
  • to distribute what is left to those entitled to it (the Beneficiaries).

We will deal with all of these matters on your behalf.

How long does this take?

The process of the winding up an estate can be completed quite quickly - in a matter of 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, but this does not mean they have to appear in Court or go in the witness box.  Where PRs have the help of a Solicitor, the application for the Grant can be made by post (otherwise you would have to visit the Probate Registry).  But PRs would only become involved in a Court case or Court Proceedings if there were a very serious dispute about the estate, and this is rare.

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 dead person can safely be handed over to the PRs.  To get 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.  All paperwork will be taken care of by us.

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.  PRs' 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 the estate has been completed if, for example, the Beneficiaries are still Children.

Must PRs act if they have been appointed in a Will or if they are relatives?

No, they always have the choice.  Choosing not to act as Executor is called renouncing, and an Administrator who does not want to act is passed over.

What if someone wants to stop being a PR?

Once administration 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 the PR can apply to retire for a good reason, such as ill health.  It is important to know in advance what being PRs involves.

Will it cost me anything to act as a PR?

All PRs are entitled to get a Solicitor's help and to have the bills related to the administration of the estate paid from the money in the estate.  Once we have examined the papers and have valuations of the assets we will provide you with estimates of the Legal Cost and disbursements.

Of Course, if you get personal advice from us unrelated to your duties as a PR you may have to pay for this yourself in the ordinary way.

It all sounds like a heavy responsibility...

It is. The Law takes the subject of acting as a PR (or Trustee) very seriously, so much so that there are several Acts of Parliament and many other legal requirements dealing with their rights, duties and obligations.  It is not difficult to see why, since PRs and Trustees may have control over large sums of other people's money.  However, many of these rules and regulations are designed to ensure that Beneficiaries can get compensation if the PR turns out to be dishonest or careless; the normal honest and conscientious PR would regard them as common sense, and highly desirable in the interests of the Beneficiaries.

We will provide you with all the assistance you need in the administration of the estate, and advise on legal points as well as on practicalities.

What other help is available to PRs?

As well as our help other specialist advice (such as Stockbroker's or Estate Agent's) , may be required.  This is also paid from the money in the estate.

What are the main duties and obligations on PRs?

These could be summed up by saying that :-

  • PRs are expected to put the interests of the Beneficiaries before their own interests, and
  • always to act in the interests of the estate, rather than themselves.

In addition, they must not make a profit from their position unless authorised and they must scrupulously account to the Beneficiaries for all the money passing through their hands.  We will prepare Estate Accounts when the estate is wound up showing all of the receipts and payments and how the balance (the residuary estate) is divided amongst the beneficiaries.  The PR's tasks should be carried out, as the Laws says, ' with due diligence' and PRs should act reasonably and prudently in relation to the estate property.  PRs who act wrongly may have to pay compensation to Beneficiaries out of their own money.

Can PRs be Beneficiaries too?

It is quite possible that you will both a PR and a Beneficiary.  For example, a woman can appoint her Husband as her Executor and leave everything to him and vice versa.

Are there any problems for PRs who are Beneficiaries too?

There are no worrying problems, but these PRs should always bear in mind their dual role.  Their main role is as PR.  As PR, they must act in the interests of the estate, and must not put their own interests first.  We will always advise if there is any difficulty to be resolved.

What information will I need?

You should be able to find most of the details you need at the beginning from sorting through the deceased's papers.  We can sort these papers for you, but it will probably save time and expense if you go through everything yourself.  We will want to have things like bills - gas and electricity accounts, for example, and other unpaid bills; rent books, pension books, credit cards etc.; income or other Tax demands, welfare benefit details, share certificates, insurance policies, bank statements, passbooks - in short, all the documents that will help establish how much will be left for the Beneficiaries once the bills have all been paid. The Estate Information Guide which we sent you with this guide will give you more information. When you have collected together all of the relevant paperwork please telephone the Wills and Trust Team to arrange a suitable appointment.

If you suspect that there may be unknown creditors it may be necessary to place a special notice in a local paper. This notice protects PRs from personal liability for unknown debts. Please tell us if you think a notice will be required.

Do discuss with us whether you need help with arranging the funeral, or with practical matters such as ensuring estate property - perhaps the deceased's house and car - is secure and fully insured.  NB.  You should not drive the deceased's car unless you are sure the legal minimum cover is in force.

For more information, support and advice around this topic, please contact us. Call us on 0191 5666 500 or complete our short enquiry form.

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