If there’s one thing lawyers are criticised for more than any other, it’s not being easy to understand – and jargon is the reason why. It’s probably a fair criticism. The law, like any other specialist area of human endeavour, has developed almost a language of its own over the 1,000 or so years it has evolved in this country, and if you don’t know the terminology, legalese can be difficult to understand.
Where we really fall down though, is words or phrases that we think are so simple everyone should know them, whereas in reality the opposite is often true. Probate, for example. I must use that word ten or more times a day, yet many clients don’t really understand what it means – or they don’t understand the processes involved in administering the estate of someone who has died.
In its most basic form, probate is the act of proving a Will; that is, the executor asks the Court to confirm that it is valid. If the Court agrees that the Will is valid, it will issue a Grant of Probate to the executor, which is a legal document that confirms to everyone that the executor can deal with the deceased’s assets. They would, for example, be able to use the grant of probate to close bank accounts or sell/transfer land.
As is often the case, the meaning has expanded somewhat. A Grant of Probate is simply one type of grant that covers a particular situation, that is where there is a Will, and where the executor is able and willing to prove it. If you don’t have a Will, or haven’t appointed an executor, a different type of grant is issued by the Court. However, the word probate is now often used not just for the particular example of an executor proving a Will, but also covers everything else in the administration of an estate.
So, when we talk about probate in its wider meaning, it means the administration of an estate, from start to finish. This can involve arranging the funeral; finding out what assets and liabilities are in the estate; dealing with tax matters; selling or transferring assets; distributing the estate and producing estate accounts.
This is a very brief overview of what probate is, and what the administration of an estate involves. If you are responsible for administering an estate and would like to talk through the issues, we offer a free consultation in probate matters. To arrange a meeting simply call me on 020 7288 4713 or my colleague Jane Molyneaux on 020 7288 4771.