My mother died in May this year aged 90. I decided about thirty years ago to break off all contact with both her and my father, who died in 2001, as she was violent and abusive towards my partner and our young children.
A relative who I had not seen for more than 30 years contacted my daughter on Facebook, to inform her my mother had left something to me in her will.
I later found out that she had left my sister’s son an amount equal to mine, although my sister herself had been disinherited.
My nephew has now received paperwork from solicitors, asking him to sign approval of those documents and return them.
The documents include a probate questionnaire on which many of the questions are marked as unknown, and my nephew is being pressured by the solicitors to sign.
Is he liable should some of the details be wrong?
A man who had not spoken to his mother in 30 years is surprised to have been left in her will
Grace Gausden, This is Money, replies: Sorting out the estate of someone who has died is rarely easy, but your situation is particularly diffcult considering you and your relatives were not in contact with your mother when she died.
Since your mother passed and you learnt you were left funds in her will, a number of questions have arisen which you, and close family members, need answered.
It started after your nephew received a set of documents from your mother’s solicitor.
A letter asked him to sign the attached paperwork, confirming he was also named in her will.
One document is a set of accounts which appear to be pre-probate, as no solicitor, probate or estate agent fees are mentioned.
The other document is a probate questionnaire filled out on the solicitors’ headed paper, but signed for by the company secretary of the small company of will-makers who drafted it.
The questionnaire was completed a couple of weeks after your mother’s death and has many of the questions marked as unknown.
Included is a list of her grandchildren, but does not include all of your children, causing further confusion.
Whilst none of your children are beneficiaries, your mother has left money to her other three grandchildren.
The paperwork has been signed by one of these grandchildren, your nephew, in a box that says: ‘needs to be signed by all executors’.
Despite the will mentioning your address, you are yet to receive a copy of the documents that your nephew has, and have now written to the solicitors to ask why you appear to have been excluded.
Neither you or your nephew have access to the information that the solicitors want clarified, and you are concerned they seem to expect both of you to know.
You are both also worried that, as he has signed the documents, your nephew will be liable if any of the details stated in the paperwork turn out to be incorrect.
The situation has been made more stressful as the solicitors are pressuring your nephew to sign and return the paperwork.
They say in their correspondence that they will be ‘unable to proceed with the estate administration without approval of the enclosed documents.’
Usually only the executors of a will are required to sign their approval, so you are concerned that your nephew, and possibly you, have been unknowingly been named executors of your mothers’ will, and have the settlement of the estate resting on your shoulders.
This is Money asked a specialist solicitor if she could make any sense of the confusing paperwork.
Family members are worried that if they sign paperwork, they will be responsible for the estate
Melinda Giles, a member of the Law Society’s wills and equity committee, replies: These papers sound very much like the probate application papers.
You’re correct to be concerned, as the fact that your nephew is being asked to sign them indicates that he has been appointed as an executor, which means he has the responsibility and liability of dealing with the estate.
If this is so, then it would be his responsibility to instruct solicitors and agree their terms and conditions – so it is particularly concerning if this is the first contact he has had from them.
First, he should request a copy of the will from these solicitors. If he is the executor, he can then seek independent legal advice, or deal with the matter personally.
If he wishes to continue with the existing solicitors, he should request details of their terms and conditions, and to be involved in all details relating to the estate.
There is also an option to step down (renounce) as an executor if he doesn’t want the liability. This doesn’t usually, depending on the wording of the will, affect his entitlement to any benefit.
If it turns out that your nephew is not the executor, then there would be no reason for him to approve and sign any paperwork of this nature at this stage. He should ask exactly why he is being asked to do so.
Grace Gausden, This is Money, adds: Both you and your nephew need to clarify exactly what the documents are, and what your responsibility is, when it comes to the will and the estate.
Although no doubt everyone wants to get the situation sorted as soon as possible, don’t be rushed into signing paperwork that you are unsure of.
Additionally, if your nephew – and perhaps you – do not wish to be executors, you can give up your right to do so.
According to the Government website, you will have to fill in a form called PA15 to give up your right to apply for probate permanently.
Alternatively, if more than one executor is named in the will, you can choose not to apply now, but reserve the right to apply later.
This is known as holding ‘power reserved’ and you will need to mark your intentions in writing.
Meanwhile, to appoint someone else to apply on your behalf, you must fill in form PA11 to appoint someone to apply for you.
However, if you do want to take the role on, you are correct in saying you will have to apply for probate.
You can only do this if you are named as an executor in either the will or an update to it, and you will only inherit assets if you are also named as a beneficiary in the will.