January 10, 2019
If a friend or relative dies leaving a Will naming you as their executor, the responsibilities can be onerous. The role of an executor involves a great deal of work and responsibility. You must ensure that their estate is properly administered and their heirs receive everything that they are entitled to. You may be tempted to save on the costs of instructing a solicitor and do everything yourself. If you are familiar with their affairs and feel their estate is likely to be straightforward, you may feel that there is no real need to obtain expert advice.
A recent case of Harris v HMRC illustrates the dangers of going it alone.
Mr Harris was appointed as a personal representative of a large estate. He decided not to instruct solicitors and instead deal with the estate himself. The estate assets were substantial and Inheritance Tax was due to the Revenue.
Mr Harris completed all the necessary paperwork, obtained the Grant and arranged for the sale of the deceased’s home. The deceased’s brother was the beneficiary of the estate and due to receive the proceeds. Mr Harris paid over all of the money to the brother, on the understanding that the brother would settle up with the Revenue himself. The brother then left the country without paying anything and has not been heard from since.
The Revenue pointed out to Mr Harris that, as executor, he was personally liable to pay the tax bill and the Court agreed. Although he himself had not received any money from the estate, Mr Harris was landed with a tax bill of almost £350,000.
Had he chosen to instruct specialist probate solicitors, they would have ensured matters were dealt with properly and he would have avoided this unfortunate outcome.
The moral is that, no matter how straightforward an estate may seem at the outset, obtaining advice from solicitors specialised in probate matters is money well spent and is a legitimate expense of the estate.
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