Letters of Administration: How to manage a person’s estate when they have died without a Will
If everything is correctly set up, the process of distributing a loved one’s estate after they have died should be relatively straightforward. The Executors that are named in their Will can ensure that everything goes to the beneficiaries specified.
However, if there is no Will, or if something is wrong with it, the process will not be as simple. In this case, you will need to apply for Letters of Administration in order to deal with the estate.
What are Letters of Administration?
Letters of Administration are documents issued by the Probate Registry authorising you to act as Administrator for the estate of a person who has died when, for one reason or another, it is not possible for an Executor to take on the role.
The alternative name for authorising someone to take control of the estate of a relative or loved one is a Grant of Representation, and you may hear Letters of Administration referred to by this name.
It should be noted that Letters of Administration are legally considered to be public documents. This means that they can be inspected by anyone who asks to see them.
When are Letters of Administration required?
There are many circumstances when Letters of Administration may be required, but the main ones are whereby:
- No Will has been made, and therefore the person’s intentions are unknown.
- The Will is ruled invalid. This can be for a variety of reasons such as the signature to the Will not being witnessed by two people.
- They have failed to name any Executors in the Will, so no-one is authorised to execute it.
- The Executors named are unable or unwilling to fulfil the role — for example, they may have died or lost mental capacity, or their current situation may be incompatible with the role.
In addition, Letters of Administration may be necessary if only one beneficiary is named in the Will to inherit the entire estate. In this case, the beneficiary can apply for Letters of Administration, making Executors unnecessary.
Who can receive Letters of Administration?
The Administrator will normally be the next of kin, and as such there is an order of priority for family members. Your spouse or civil partner will be priority, but an unmarried partner will not normally be eligible. The exception is if they are applying on the grounds of being the sole beneficiary of a Will.
If you are not survived by a partner, the priorities for other relatives are:
- Niece or nephew
If there is no-one, or the relevant person is a minor or lacks mental capacity, other relatives will be prioritised in order of closeness.
Are Letters of Administration always required in these cases?
It may be that, even if no valid Will has been made or Executors appointed, the estate can still be distributed without an Administrator. This is likely to be the case if the estate consists only of one or more of the following:
- Property owned jointly with a living person
- Joint bank accounts shared with a living person
- Personal possessions — e.g. jewellery or cars
- Life insurance policies
- Pension benefits
An Administrator will also not be required if the debts owed by the estate, (including Inheritance Tax), are greater than the assets. This will mean that no assets will remain to be distributed after the debts have been settled.
How do you apply for Letters of Administration?
If you have been informed that a close relative has died either without a valid Will or without Executors who can undertake the role, you must decide if you are the appropriate person to be the Administrator. If you are a surviving spouse or civil partner, this should be clear, but otherwise it would be recommended to seek the advice of a Solicitor to establish whether your application is likely to succeed.
There are certain steps you must take before applying for Letters of Administration. For example, you will need to report to HMRC the total value of the estate and pay any Inheritance Tax due. If there is a Will, make sure that you have the original.
You can then go to the Government’s website and download form PA1A to send by post. This must be filled in accurately, so it would be advisable to have help from a Solicitor before sending it.
What happens next?
It normally takes between eight and ten weeks to be granted Letters of Administration. However, the process may take longer if there are complications.
You will need to provide the Solicitor with all relevant documents and letters related to the estate, and you will be asked to review the paperwork and sign an Inheritance Tax Form and a Legal Statement to confirm the details of the deceased and their estate.
When you receive the Letters of Administration, you may begin distributing the assets from the estate. Unless you have been given permission to do so in a valid Will, you may not decide for yourself how the assets are to be assigned. In the event of a valid Will existing, you must follow its specifications, while in the absence of a valid Will there are strict laws governing how the estate will be divided.
Do I need a Solicitor?
While there is no legal requirement to apply through a Solicitor for Letters of Administration, there are serious risks involved in trying to do it yourself. Like any process connected to Wills and Probate, it is a complex legal procedure that can easily be invalidated by a minor error.
An error may result in your application being rejected, and the estate could be left in limbo for an extended period. There are also penalties if Inheritance Tax is not paid within six months of the end of the month of death. Consulting a Solicitor who specialises in matters of Probate, on the other hand, will ensure that the whole process runs efficiently and smoothly.
Get in touch with our expert Probate team today to find out more about applying for Letters of Administration.