An Estranged Parent Has Died – What Should I Do?
"I lost touch with my dad due to a family dispute following my mum's death. It's now been 15 years and I've heard that my dad has passed away. I think I'm his only family – do I need to find out if he has a Will and take care of his estate?"
To hear that a parent has died can come as a bolt from the blue, especially when you haven't seen your parent in many years or had any warning that they were unwell. Not only are you faced with the shock of suddenly losing a parent, you now need to figure out what will happen to their estate.
Sarah Ali, Trainee Solicitor specialising in Wills and Probate
at Simpson Millar, guides you through the process:
Finding out Whether There is a Will
Often, estranged parents have other closer relatives who are already equipped with the knowledge of whether there is a Will, in which case the executor or the solicitor handling the estate may contact you to tell you if you have received a share of the estate.
If not, you may need to do the leg work in finding out whether a Will has been left. If a Will hasn't been left detailing your estranged parent's wishes, the estate would need to be dealt with according to the intestacy rules.
Searching for a Will is the best place to start. The government website suggests:
- Looking through the person's paperwork at home
- Checking with their bank or their solicitor
- Making a request with companies that store Wills
- The London Probate Department
Is it My Responsibility to Distribute the Estate?
If a Will has been left, the responsibility for distributing the estate falls on the person who is named the executor of the Will. As you believe that you could be your father's only close family – this onus could be on you.
As an executor, it's your job to administer the estate properly; you can be held personally liable if you're negligent in carrying out this duty. This can be a difficult situation to find yourself in – especially if you have had a tenuous relationship with your parent.
It is possible to appoint someone else to apply for probate or to renounce executorship, but often, people seek the help of a solicitor in carrying out probate.
Disinheritance – Accept or Contest?
Children of estranged parents may locate the Will only to find that they've been disinherited. Even when decisions to disinherit are made abundantly clear, it doesn't necessarily mean you aren't entitled to a share of the estate.
A recent case whereby a disinherited daughter was ultimately awarded a third of her mother's estate shows that certain people can't be disinherited. The High Court ruled that "reasonable provisions" should be left for children by their parents. If you are disinherited, you could make a claim to receive this.
When There Isn't a Will, Intestacy Rules Apply
The intestacy rules will apply if your parent didn't leave a Will; this could mean you will receive a share of the estate. This can depend on 2 things – whether your parent is survived by a spouse or civil partner, and if so, whether their estate is valued over £250,000.
If your parent does not have a surviving spouse or civil partner, the whole estate will be split equally between his or her children. If their partner does survive them, the first £250,000 will go to their partner, with half of the remaining value being split equally between the children. You will not receive any of the estate if it's valued under £250,000 and your parent has a surviving partner.
Seeking Professional Advice
Our Private Client team are experts in all aspects of Probate Law and are here to help whatever your situation. We can help you with administering an estate and will also support you if any disputes arise or if you wish to contest a Will