Our Probate Solicitors answer: What is a Certainty Will Search and do I need one?
Posted on 19th November 2020
Our team of experts in Probate and Estate Administration are big advocates of using Certainty. At MG Legal, we register all of our Wills (unless our clients opt-out of the registration, of course) with Certainty, the National Will Register, and, as an added bonus for clients, as our firm subscribes to Certainty’s services, there are no charges passed onto our clients for this subscription.
On top of subscribing to Certainty’s Will search services, at MG Legal, we also frequently use Certainty to search for missing or unknown Wills on behalf of our Probate clients. For example, when they want to ensure that there isn’t a Will for the deceased that they weren’t already aware of.
The importance of such searches has recently been highlighted by Certainty in a November article, which our experts in Probate and Estate Administration have discussed, below.
The Certainty Case Study
A solicitor had been appointed by the local authority to trace family members of the deceased, as they were believed to have died without a Will and with no known relatives. As a precaution, the law firm also wished to check that there was no unknown Will, so instructed a Certainty National Will Register Combined Search. This level of search checks the National Will Register held by Certainty, to check for a Will that the deceased made, which was registered. It also contacts solicitors in the area where the deceased lived, and sometimes even previously lived or worked, to check whether they held a Will for the deceased.
After checking their records, a firm was able to confirm that they held a Will, which appointed them as the Executors. The Will left everything to charity. On the basis of that search, the deceased’s estate was distributed in line with their wishes, rather than passing under the Rules of Intestacy, which was not what the deceased would have wanted (based on the contents of the Will they had made during their lifetime).
What are the Rules of Intestacy?
Our Probate and Estate Administration experts have discussed this previously, however, the Rules of Intestacy can briefly be explained as follows:
The deceased’s Estate passes to a spouse/civil partner and/or children (depending on the value of the Estate). If there are none surviving, it would then pass to surviving parents or siblings, then onto half-siblings, then grandparents, aunties/uncles and half-aunts or half-uncles. It would only pass onto the next category of people if there were no survivors in the previous category, and if the people in the category had no surviving children of their own. This can sound confusing, but our team have explained how this would work:
If the deceased had no spouse, civil partner, children or surviving parents or siblings, but they had surviving nieces and nephews, the nieces and nephews would inherit in equal shares. They are entitled to receive the share that their parent would have received under the Rules of Intestacy.
If there are no surviving relations from this list, or indeed any surviving children of relations, the Estate will pass to the Crown, and will be known as ‘Bona Vacantia’ (vacant goods).
Why carry out a Will Search?
If you are the named executor in a Will or the person entitled to the estate under the Rules of Intestacy (the Personal Representative), you want to make sure that you protect yourself, as well as making sure that you are carrying out your loved one’s wishes.
If you are the Personal Representative and you do not make enquiries about whether the Will is the last known Will, or whether the person had a Will if the estate is being distributed under the Rules of Intestacy, you could be personally liable if a Will was located at a later date. This means that the actual beneficiaries could make a claim against you for the money that they should have received.
In addition, the search can offer peace of mind that the wishes that your loved one carefully considered and put into a legally binding Will are actually carried out.
How much is a Certainty Will Search?
There are different levels of Certainty Will Searches available.
A basic Will Register search checks the National Will Register held with Certainty, to find out whether the deceased made a registered Will. Certainty store over 8.4 million Will records so it’s definitely a good place to start. This search usually costs £38 plus VAT.
The next search available is a REACH search, which is a nationwide but geographically targeted search that contacts members and non-member law firms to find out whether they hold a Will for the deceased. For example, Certainty would contact X number of firms starting from the closest to a specific postcode, moving out geographically until they had covered a certain area, or contacted a specific number of firms. This search usually costs £76.00 plus VAT.
The next level of search available is a combined Will search. Our Probate and Estate Administration experts find this search to be the most common search requested by Personal Representatives when we are dealing with an Estate. This search covers all of the above, plus places a Notice on the Certainty Missing Will Notice board which is sent to Certainty member solicitors nationwide. It will also provide a quotation for Missing Will, Trustee Indemnity insurance, if required. This search costs £95.00 plus VAT.
The final search package offered to locate missing Wills is the Will Search protect package. On top of the above services, Certainty also place Section 27 Notices in the Gazette (you can read more about Section 27 Notices from our expert team, here). They also carry out a Probate Registry search, to find out whether a Grant of Representation has already been applied for in relation to the deceased, and, if there has, will provide you with a copy. Finally, it also checks the Probate Depository for a Will. This search is usually £199.00 plus VAT.
What search you carry out may depend on the value of the Estate in proportion to the cost of the search, or whether there is already a known Will.
Our Probate and Estate Administration experts dealt with an Estate where the Personal Representative named in the deceased’s Will wanted to ensure that there was not a later Will made which they weren’t aware of. We therefore instructed Certainty in carrying out a combined Will search on behalf of the executor. This gave them peace of mind that they were distributing their loved one’s Estate how they wanted it to be divided.
How long do Will searches take?
With the basic will register search, you usually receive results instantaneously, unless Certainty require more information from you.
With the REACH and other packages, you generally have to wait up to 28 days, although due to current circumstances, Certainty are advising that results can take up to 56 days from submission.
Can I instruct a Probate Solicitors to carry out the search?
We often get enquiries about carrying out searches and whether our team of Probate and Administration experts can help. Generally, we can carry out the searches on your behalf, even if we are not instructed to deal with the full administration of the Estate. We would agree a fee with you before you agreed to instructing us, so that you know from the outset how much it will cost, and these search and legal fees can usually be paid out of the Estate funds. Therefore, you won’t usually be paying out of your own pocket.
Why choose MG Legal?
At MG Legal, we have years of experience in carrying out Will searches and dealing with applications for Probate and the Administration of Estates. Our team can help provide you with information and advice about which search may be best in your circumstances and whether you are the correct person to be dealing with the deceased’s Estate.
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