Most people when they become a widow or a widower are trying to reduce their paperwork and so they might rightly ask do I really need to see a solicitor? The short answer is yes. Most Estates have some degree of paperwork that needs to be attended to, that you may be unaware of, that will be difficult to deal with later when you become aware of it.
Property or Real Estate
What if the now deceased spouse was an owner either jointly with you, or alone?
If a property is owned in the name of your deceased spouse then you are probably aware that you need to see a solicitor, but what if it is owned jointly?
If you properly attend to matters like filing a Notice with Land and Property Information (who were previously known as the Department of Lands), paying the filing fees and sorting out any associated mortgages in the time shortly after the death of the spouse then this is indeed a relatively simple process that your solicitor can help you with.
We often see people who haven't done this and it becomes a problem. The problem might be that the surviving spouse is now looking to sell the house and can't sell the house until these matters, which take some time to attend to, have been dealt with. Generally if someone wants to sell their house they don't need additional delays, they might be moving into a retirement village, they might be in financial difficulty, they might have found a property that they want to purchase and need to sell the house to finance the purchase.
We also see people administering Estates who believe that certain assets are held in the name of the Estate but it turns out that actually, the property is held at least jointly in the name of some other Estate. Now the Executor must deal with administering two Estates, and the older Estate is still open to a family provision claim because it has not yet been administered.
Sometimes people are not aware of all the assets in the Estate or how to claim them. In one Estate we were administering for a widow of a lengthy relationship we insisted on being provided with superannuation documents even though the widow was insistent that there was no superannuation left and therefore no life insurance. Once we obtained the superannuation documents we discovered the widow was entitled to more than $500,000 in life insurance. Because we know what we are looking for we might unearth documents you weren't aware of.
Even if you are aware of the superannuation or life insurance that you are entitled to the process to get that assets is cumbersome. This is often one of the most time delayed parts of an Estate, even with the assistance of a solicitor to speed up the process. During this time of stress it is wise to get someone accustomed to dealing with documents and form over substance procedures, like a solicitor, to keep the matter moving along for you.
Sometimes providing the correct documents in the correct fashion can avoid the need for further documents. There is no legislative definition regarding when an Estate needs Probate, it depends on whether one of the asset holders requires Probate. Most banks for instance make an internal decision regarding this, and Estates of this size or this nature do require it, and Estates of that size or nature do not require it. As you are dependant upon the discretion of another person or entity, doing things their way can sometimes result in a better outcome for you. Avoiding Probate can avoid both cost and delay.
In short, see a solicitor
You should speak to one of our solicitors regarding the Estate, even if you think that the Estate doesn't need to be administered. If there is nothing that needs to be done then your initial half hour appointment is free and you now know that you don't have to take any further steps. If something does need to be done then the solicitor could give you an indication of what needs to be done and how much that would cost. Jacinta Watkins and Hamish Williams are both experienced in dealing with Estates and the various forms required in Estate matters, and can let you know whether you need to administer your spouses Estate and what is involved.
If you would like more information then click on the blue button to the left to read some more of our articles regarding Estates, Wills and Superannuation.