My Parents didn’t have a Will. This is what I did.

I am one of the co-founders of LegalWills. We offer online Will writing services for the UK (through LegalWills.co.uk), Canada (through LegalWills.ca) and the US (through USLegalWills.com). Over the last 20 years over half a million Wills have been creating using the tools developed by Henry Raud and myself, Tim Hewson. On a trip back to the UK to visit my parents, they admitted that they didn’t have an up-to-date Will themselves “but it will be alright, it’s obvious what will happen anyway. It will all go to each other, and then it will all go you the two of you, our children”.

It’s a common misunderstanding. The assets may perhaps eventually end up with the right people, but having a Will certainly makes it simpler. Besides, I own a Will writing business, so it would reflect poorly on my powers of persuasion if I couldn’t convince my own parents that their children would be much better positioned if there was a Will in place, even if the distribution of the assets was obvious.

I explained that using our own tool, the process would take about 20 minutes, and that I could give them a break on the £39.95 price-tag.

Even though my own parents didn’t have an email account, or internet access, I would be able to help them step through the service, and they would be able to have their legal Last Will and Testament in their hands in half an hour.

Three years later, and both of my parents have passed away. The Wills gave us no issues whatsoever with the probate office. I am in full receipt of my inheritance, and there were absolutely no process disadvantages to having used LegalWills.co.uk to create my parents’ Wills.

This article gives you an overview of the Will writing process and probate process.

Meeting with my parents to write their Will

Gathering the Required Information

There are some key pieces of information that need to go into a Will. You need to name an Executor (or more than one Executor), and you need to know the plan for distributing the assets. There are more details like guardians for minor children, trusts for minors and pet trusts, but for the purposes of my parent’s Wills, the key information was knowing their choice of Executor and asset distribution.

If you are unsure of your parent’s wishes, at LegalWills.co.uk we provide an “Information Collection Worksheet” that can be printed. You can then sit with your parents and gather the information in an interview style to be entered into the service at a later date.

Gathering information to write a Will with your parents
Information Collection Worksheet

Of course, the service at LegalWills.co.uk is fully responsive in design. This means that you can use it on your phone, tablet or iPad. The service will render perfectly on the screen which allows you to enter the information directly into the service if you have a data connection.

Can you name a non-UK resident as the Executor of a Will?

The service at LegalWills.co.uk guides you through the process of preparing a Will, with online help and documentation available every step of the way. One question that comes up from time-to-time is whether an adult child, living overseas, can be named as an Executor. I can say from experience that yes, this causes absolutely no issues whatsoever. I was named as Executor to my parents’ UK Wills, as a Canadian resident and citizen. It did not cause any problems at all. I was able to submit all of the appropriate forms to the probate office by post.

Entering the information into LegalWills.co.uk

LegalWills.co.uk guides you through ten sections to prepare a Will. You may know much of the information, like the name, family status, children, grandchildren. If you have gathered information using the worksheet, you may know the Executor appointments.

Naming an Executor
Naming an Executor to the Will at LegalWills.co.uk

For the distribution of assets, you may know that everything will pass to the spouse, with the children named as alternate beneficiaries. But perhaps there is a pet trust, or a charitable bequest.

It is very common for somebody to leave for example, £5,000 to a charity, and then the remainder to go to their family.

At LegalWills.co.uk we also allow you to make provision in your Will for lifetime interest trusts. So for example, if a spouse is not the biological parent of the children, they may receive use of the estate for the rest of their life, at which point is passes to the children.

You do not need a complete list of assets to work through the Will service. However, it is extremely useful for the Executor to have a list of assets when it comes to gathering the estate. To assist with this, LegalWills.co.uk offers the MyLifeLocker service.

We strongly recommend that you sit down with your parents and work through the LifeLocker service to understand the full extent of their assets. Otherwise, you will be required to do this after they have passed away, without any input from them – a much more difficult task.

Executor Handbook
The LifeLocker service at LegalWills.co.uk

Signing and Dating the Will

As soon as you have stepped through the Will service and answered all of the questions, the document is compiled and can then be downloaded as a PDF file and printed.

To make this document a legal Will it must then be signed in the presence of any two adult witnesses. The witnesses can be friends, neighbours or even family members if they are not beneficiaries in the Will. Once the document is signed and witnessed, it is a fully legal document.

Storing the Will

The printed, signed Will must then be stored in a place that is known and accessible to the Executor. The probate office will not readily accept a photocopy or scanned Will, so it is vital that the Executor can access the original document, signed in ink. (I use the term “Probate Office” as a descriptor – it is actually HM Courts & Tribunals Service that receive and process probate applications).

This also means that storing the document on your computer, or a picture of it on your phone, is not going to be accepted by the probate office. Often, the best choice is to simply give the document to your Executor in a sealed envelope for safe keeping.

Freezing of Assets

When somebody dies, their assets are typically frozen by the financial institutions holding the money. You cannot present a Will to a bank and expect that bank to give you access to the money. The bank doesn’t know if a subsequent Will was written, or whether this Will is being contested. They do not want to risk handing the assets in the account to the wrong person. However, each bank has its own level of risk tolerance. In general is an estate is worth more than about £5,000 probate will be required. But each bank has their own threshold.

Aviva – £50,000

AXA – £10,000

Barclays – £50,000

Britannia – £30,000

Cheltenham & Gloucester – £25,000

Co-op Bank – £30,000

Halifax – £50,000

HSBC – Decided on a case-by-case basis.

Lloyds TSB – £50,000

Nationwide – £50,000

Natwest – £25,000

NS&I – £5,000 to £15,000 depending on the will and the number of Executors

Post Office – £10,000

Santander – £50,000

All of these numbers are approximate guides, and it really depends on your relationship with the bank, and the banks perceived risk of giving the money to the wrong Executor.

It’s worth noting that if any one of the financial institutions holding an asset in the estate request a “Grant of Probate” then the Will needs to be probated.

Calculating Inheritance Tax to be paid

In the UK, the Inheritance Tax threshold at the time of writing is £325,000, or £650,000 for a couple. Above this the estate is taxed at a rate of 40 percent. You will have to find the appropriate form based on the size of your parent’s estate and submit the form to HM Revenue and Customs.

Submitting the forms to probate

Probate can be submitted directly online, or by post using form PA1P. There is a separate application process when there is no Will. The application requires all Executors to sign the form and submit the form together with the Inheritance Tax Summary Form, the original Will, and the original death certificate (photocopies are not acceptable). This is also an opportunity for any Executor to renounce their position (in my experience, it is more paperwork to renounce the position than it is to take on the role).

It took about 11-12 weeks for the probate application to be approved and a Grant of Probate issued to the Executors. For those three months, all assets are frozen.

Gathering and Distributing the Assets

Once the Executor has the Grant of Probate, this can be presented to the bank. It’s not quite so simple as presenting it to a cashier. Any frozen account is in the hands of the “bereavement department” so there is a little more bureaucracy to work through, but this should only take another day or two.

Depending on how many assets are being gathered, and how many beneficiaries are involved, you may be required to set up a new bank account for the estate. This allows all assets to be pooled together into a single account. Certainly if beneficiaries are receiving a percentage of the estate e.g. 12 percent of the estate to each of my grandchildren, then the assets should be gathered into a single estate in order to assess the full estate value and calculate the size of each inheritance.

Do I need a solicitor to submit forms to the probate office?

Absolutely not. It is as simple as applying for a passport, or any government benefit. The website at HM Courts & Tribunals Service is well laid out, all forms are available for download, and even if you make a mistake, you are given opportunities to fix errors (but this does add a significant amount of time to the process).

Transferring Assets from the UK to another country

There are a variety of approaches to doing this, and I have personally tried at least three.

Sending a cheque

Sending a cheque would seem to have no restrictions on the amount. However, in practice, this isn’t the case. When my Sister sent me a cheque to transfer money from a UK account the cheque was blocked by the bank (Lloyds Bank). A week later my sister received a letter from the bank explaining that they had blocked it because she matched a profile of somebody falling for a “romance scam” (fifty plus year old woman, sending a cheque overseas). Keep in mind that phoning to speak to a high street bank is impossible. It tooks weeks and snail mail letter writing to figure out exactly what had happened.

A funds transfer

Incredibly, a funds transfer was actually a worse experience. Lloyds transferred the funds, but nothing appeared in my bank account in Canada. Again, it was impossible to speak to somebody at Lloyds, but each letter explained that the money had gone. But Royal Bank of Canada had not received it. This is a surprisingly common experience, when with a single mis-typed digit, the funds can go astray. It took four stressful months to track down the funds, and to this day, we don’t know where it had been for that time.

Wire transfers

Using Wise.com

Finally, we settled on Wise.com (formerly TransferWise.com) which was a minimal fee (less than a dollar), stress free process with full audit trails. My sister sent money from her bank to her Wise account. From her Wise account to my Wise account. And then I moved it from my Wise account to my bank account. I have absolutely no affiliation with Wise.com but it saved me a lot of money, and a lot of stress.

The choice of dying without a Will

If a person dies without a Will, they are leaving a headache for their family. The gov website explains:

If the person did not leave a will, the most ‘entitled’ person can apply to become the administrator of the estate.

This is the closest living relative – normally the husband, wife or civil partner (including if you were separated) followed by any children 18 or over (including legally adopted children but not step-children).

Use the inheritance calculator to work out who the closest relative is if there’s no husband, wife, civil partner or children.

You cannot apply if you’re the partner of the person but were not their husband, wife or civil partner when they died.

There is no Executor named, and no distribution plan. The process is also much more complicated.

There is never a situation where it is preferable to die without a Will.

Get your parents to write their Will today

Everybody should have a Will. It takes 20 minutes and costs £39.95 at LegalWills.co.uk. If your parents don’t have a Will they are leaving you with a mess. I convinced my parents to prepare their Will and used the service at LegalWills.co.uk. If you have read the article above, the process of sorting out an estate can be a smooth one from start to finish. If your parents still have the capacity to prepare a Will, then sit with them as soon as you can and work through the service at LegalWills.co.uk.

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