Today, four months and four days since Dunc died, I have finally received the Grant of Representation (Probate) in the post. Four months and five days ago, I didn't even know that such a thing existed, let alone the hoops that one is required to jump through in order to obtain it. Today, its arrival marks the beginning of the end of dealing with Dunc's estate (which makes him sound both old and rich, neither of which he was..).
Within the first couple of weeks after Dunc's death, a smartly dressed man came round, ostensibly from a centre supporting bereaved people who are dealing with the financial affairs of their loved ones. In fairness, he did tell me what was involved in applying for the Grant of Probate, before telling me that I could pay his colleagues about £4000 so that they could take care of the process for me. Alternatively, I could pay them £625 to do part of the process for me, or I could join the fifteen to thirty percent of people who attempt to complete the process themselves. I like a challenge and the odd bit of maths, and I figured that, sadly, I'd have plenty of spare evenings now in order to work through it all.
In order to apply for the Grant of Probate, I had to prepare a set of accounts of all Dunc's assets and liabiliies (taking into account whether or not the liability was shared with me). I needed a 'date of death balance' from all the utility companies in order to complete this (and most of them required two phone calls and a letter in order to persuade them to part with the correct information).
I had to value all of Dunc's belongings, right down to the lawn mower, the set of Denby we received as wedding presents (halved), and the value of his clothes, should they have been placed on the open market at the date of his death. Anything over the value of £500 had to be valued independently. This meant that I had to have the house valued and explaining that to the boys and Dunc's poor mum was certainly interesting!
I completed the probate application form (PA1) with relative ease, but found HMRC's tax form (IHT205) considerably more challenging. (Think: 'find the total for box B, subtract the figure in box A, and write the answer in box C', all the way until you end up with the final, important, big figure in box K, and you get the picture). It took my brother, with a business studies degree, and I three hours to complete. (After all, you reach page ten in the accompanying booklet before it advises you how to complete question one on the form!) Anyway, once I'd sent off all the relevant paperwork, along with the required fee of £125 for the privilege of completing the process, I waited to receive the oath that I needed to swear in front of my solicitor, and arranged to go and swear it as soon as it arrived. A further 16 days later, and the grant has finally arrived. I have to admit, I did feel like holding it aloft in celebration, something akin to the captain of an FA Cup winning team lifting the prize after a long and arduous campaign. After all, not only does it mean that I am a step closer to the end of all this paperwork, but it suggests that my maths isn't too shabby either! (And I'm about £4,000 better off than I would have been if Mr. Smartly Dressed had his way..).
Of course, what I haven't mentioned yet, is the fact that because I am Dunc's spouse, and because the value of his estate is below the inheritance tax threshold, I am exempt from paying tax on any of the above anyway! The whole exercise has merely proved that no further action has to be taken! Mr. Smartly Dressed told me that the average estate requires 80 hours of work in order to receive the Grant of Probate (although I believe it 'only' took me about thirty hours). That's a lot of work just to prove that I don't owe HMRC anything.
In addition to completing the probate process, I have also had to fill in a myriad of additional tax forms that began falling through my letterbox within a week of registering Dunc's death. There have been forms to establish whether he paid too much tax between 6 April and his death on 25 April and forms to establish what my new tax code should be. I've also filled in benefit forms, pension forms and have been forced to close our credit card account, as Dunc was the main card holder, and apply for a new one.
Throwing this amount of paperwork at someone would be overwhelming at any time. To expect people to complete it all in the first few months after the death of a loved one, is unreasonable (and I suppose that is why Mr. Smartly Dressed and his colleagues are in business). I'm not suggesting that I know a better way of establishing whether tax is owed or not. However, the current process, coupled with the utility companies' inability to deal expediently with queries related to bereavement, most definitely creates additional stress at a time when people are already at their lowest ebb, and that can't be right.