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Probate and home insurance

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What is probate and who owns any property which is subject to the process?

What is probate?

When someone dies, probate is the legal process that takes place to make sure outstanding debts are paid, the remaining assets are distributed, and their estate is generally wound up.

The process is slightly different – and takes on a different name – under both Scottish and Northern Irish law.

The task of managing the deceased’s estate – all their assets, including money, stocks and shares, and property – falls to the executors of the will, who are issued a “grant of probate”. If the person died without leaving a will – they died “intestate” – executors are issued “letters of administration”.

Home insurance during probate

The executors are under a strict duty to safeguard every asset of the estate throughout probate. Indeed, the executors bear such a heavy weight of responsibility that they have unlimited personal liability for any losses incurred during this period.

As far as property is concerned, that means ensuring that adequate home insurance during probate remains in place to protect the building and contents of any home against loss or damage.

One of the first actions of the executors to any such property, therefore, is to contact the current insurers and advise them that the home is currently subject to probate. This makes sure that insurers are aware that the insurable interest in the property has transferred from the deceased person to the executors. The latter’s name and address may also then be entered onto the policy documents and used in all necessary correspondence (such as renewal notices, for example).

One of the critical pieces of information relevant to any insurer may be the fact that the property remains unoccupied during probate. This is a normal state of affairs for homes under probate when potential benefactors and interested parties are holding fire until they can move in once the formal, legal process has been completed.

Specialist unoccupied property insurance may be needed for the home while it remains empty during these stages. This is a time when the home may be at its most vulnerable – to intruders, vandalism, theft, or an undetected need for emergency repairs).

Bearing in mind that, in some cases, probate may take quite a time – up to six months, but quite easily as long as 12 months, says the UK Care Guide – you might want to shop around for the most competitively priced unoccupied property insurance.

Mitigating the risks

As with any empty property, if the home is unoccupied during probate, the insurers will expect the executors – in whose name insurance cover has been arranged – to ensure that the property is regularly visited and inspected to check for any damage or need for repairs and maintenance.

Although the responsibility falls to the executors, if you have a potential stake in the property, it is clearly in your own best interests to arrange periodic inspections for loss or damage.

Inspections also give an opportunity to review the security of the property – that all doors and windows are securely locked, for example. Other security measures might include a friendly chat with neighbours to ask that an eye is kept on the property, or even that they park their car on the property's driveway from time to time to make it less evident that the home is currently unoccupied.

Dealing with the paperwork associated with the loss of a loved one and their estate can be an overwhelming – ensuring you have taken the appropriate steps in relation to any property they owned may only take a few minutes but will give you peace of mind.