Not a question you would expect an auctioneer to ask, but one that I find myself saying, when I chat to people about my work. The reason is not to pry into your family affairs, but to help explain the work I do for solicitors when I conduct a probate valuation.
Biddle & Webb are lucky to receive instructions from a wide group of solicitors, asking us to value and clear the residual chattels from estates. These solicitors work in the family or private client departments of firms and specialise in probate matters.
The Law Society has a useful section explaining about the probate process and of course a list of local solicitor to help you in this matter.
You can find a solicitor at www.lawsociety.org.uk/findasolicitor.
So my role is to visit homes, placing values on the furniture, jewellery, pictures and other effects found in a house and draw up a valuation report that goes to the solicitor or the executors. The value is used when they apply for a grant of probate that is an official document which the executors need to administer the estate.
The grant of probate is issued by a section of the court known as the probate registry.
Once granted the executors can proceed to divide the estate between the beneficiaries, passing bequests to the named individuals and so draw the estate to a close.
If the estate is subject to inheritance tax my probate valuation becomes essential to help calculation any tax due. You can find out more by looking at the HM Revenue & Customs website at www.hmrc.gov.uk or by asking a solicitor about taxable estates.
People do say, it must be a rather sad process, and yes I have been involved with some sad cases of untimely deaths, or visited houses where it is clear someone has struggled to look after themselves and I have been to houses where you are walking on the rubbish and seen rooms filled to the ceiling.
However I have also met some fascinating people and chatted to relatives, listening to stories of the deceased life, and heard amazing stories about war time service, lives lived in the far corners of the world. I also tell myself that the role helps the family put in order the deceased affairs.
Often after the valuation, Biddle & Webb are instructed to clear the house, bringing the saleable items to auction and disposing of the balance. So probate valuations are an important part of our business. The executors often have houses full of their own items, so need help to find new homes for the furniture, pictures, jewellery and other items. An auction is a great way to do this and of course also fulfils a responsibility of the executors to raise money for the benefit of the beneficiaries of the estate, be that an individual, other family members or a charity.