Case studies

Due Diligence in Probate

By Estatesearch on April 8th, 2024

By Emma Davies, Solicitor, Masefield Solicitors LLP

Masefield Solicitors LLP is a legal firm based in Ledbury, near the Herefordshire-Worcestershire border.  Two other fee earners and I, plus support staff make up our small but perfectly formed private client department.  We pride ourselves on offering a tailored, professional service which is flexible to match the needs of our clients.

Masefield Solicitors LLP has provided legal services to the community from as early as 1836.  We are a firm with traditional values but also leverage modern technology to offer the best service possible to our clients and their families, many of whom have worked with us over extended periods of time.

Our estate administration work often comes through a known family member or recommendations from current and past clients.  We offer a free half-hour meeting so families can come in and find out what’s required and then make an informed decision about whether they would like to deal with the estate administration themselves or would like to call upon our professional guidance and support.

The importance of Due Diligence in Probate

If they choose to work with us, one of the first steps for us is usually to establish the assets and liabilities within an estate. Where we are appointed as the personal representatives in an estate, we insist on a comprehensive asset and liability search called a Financial Profile Search ordered through Estatesearch. Estatesearch is a legal technology company that offers a range of cost-effective searches all placed through a secure online portal, saving us time in writing to individual financial institutions. Estatesearch’s Financial Profile search also has a much wider remit than we could viably provide and so it ensures no assets such as bank accounts, old pensions, shares or premium bonds are missed.

We recommend a Financial Profiles search on all estate administration files and give personal representatives a guidance sheet explaining the benefits of such a search.  The majority choose to go ahead.  As well as establishing the full extent of the estate, an asset and liability search supports due diligence in probate, giving personal representatives reassurance and protection against the risk that unknown assets and liabilities will come up at a later date.

We also recommend a Will search and again, if we are acting as the personal representatives, it is our policy to order one through Estatesearch. This checks there was no later version of a Will created by the deceased which the family were unaware of.  It’s a belt and braces approach which ensures due diligence and good service on our part.

We always recommend Section 27 notices to creditors which notifies creditors of the intention to distribute the estate assets. The notices can be seamlessly commissioned through Estatesearch’s portal and we aim to place them so that their expiry coincides with the grant of probate and the estate administration can progress in a time efficient manner.

We ensure that we complete ID and AML searches against the deceased, personal representatives and beneficiaries on all files. For compliance and anti-fraud purposes this means we have undertaken checks to ensure everyone is who they say they are and are not named on the sanctions list.  An ID and AML check also confirms the accuracy of the National Insurance number and last known addresses we have on file which reassures personal representatives that they are dealing with the correct beneficiaries.

A bankruptcy search verifies beneficiaries are solvent and can give good receipt for the inheritance they are about to receive. This helps to ensure that personal representatives are paying the correct person and will not find themselves liable if the beneficiary was bankrupt.  Estatesearch’s Overseas Bankruptcy Searches have been useful. In one case, we were working with beneficiaries in California and we needed to provide slightly more information to commission the search such as social security numbers compared to a UK search, but the results were reported quickly and there was no delay in the process.

It can be difficult for clients to find closure where an estate is yet to be distributed.  Completion of the estate administration often helps clients to draw a line under the experience and assists them with the grieving process. From our perspective, if we can help with the administration in an efficient way and support our clients with best practice and a flexible approach to suit their needs at a time where they are at their most vulnerable, we know we have done a good job. Estatesearch enables us to order Financial Profile Searches, ID Checks, Section 27 Notice placements and Bankruptcy Searches all in one place.  Reports are clear and user-friendly, and we are able to share these with clients.  It means we can be as efficient as possible and ensure due diligence in probate and every step of the estate administration process.

Originally published in Today’s Wills & Probate – April 24th 2024

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