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Q & A

Property Buying & Selling (Conveyancing)

Q:  What is conveyancing?

Conveyancing is the legal process of transferring property ownership. The seller's solicitor draws up a contract which both parties sign once the buyer's solicitor has made all prudent enquiries to ensure that there are no problems with the ownership of the property and the legal title is sound. The property and funds change hands on completion.

Q. How long will the process of buying or selling a home take?
A. The average time taken, from our receiving your instructions to exchanging contracts, is usually between four and six weeks.

Q. Do I need a deposit?
A. Ideally, a buyer should pay a 10% deposit, where they are obtaining a mortgage advance for 90% or less towards the purchase price. However sometimes people often borrow more than 90% from their Lender. Therefore it is usual for the deposit to be reduced accordingly. If you are selling and buying at the same time, it is usual for the deposit received from your buyer to be forwarded to your seller’s Solicitor directly therefore not requiring you to put forward a deposit.

Q. When can we exchange contracts?
A. You will be committed to buying or selling your property, once exchange of contracts has taken place. We will therefore ensure that all legal formalities are in place, before we advise you to exchange. It is at this point that you should discuss completion dates with your seller or buyer. You may well have already selected a target date, and we will do all we can to achieve this for you, but no one can guarantee that your initial target date will be met.

Q. When do I need to arrange buildings insurance?
A. You must arrange buildings insurance from exchange of contracts as the property will be at your risk from that time. We ask that you send us a copy of the policy for our records in order to comply with your Lenders requirements.

Q. What are pre-contract enquiries?
A. After reading through the documentation provided by the seller’s Solicitor we would raise enquiries which we feel are necessary. These enquiries could include requesting details of any alterations/ additions to the property and ensuring that planning consents have been obtained, checking guarantees, disputes etc.

Q. Is it possible for completion to take place at the weekend?
A. No. Completion has to be geared to take place on the same day as the funds are transferred in the property transaction. Banks are only able to transfer money electronically Monday to Friday.


Q:  What is completion?

Completion occurs some time after exchange, and is the date upon which the new owner takes possession of the property and the final financial settlement occurs. If having exchanged any party fails to complete the transaction, that party will be in breach of contract and could face severe financial penalties.


Q. What happens about the keys?
A. If you are selling a property, you should leave a set of keys with the agents (if any). Once we have received the sale proceeds, we will tell you and the agents that your sale has completed and the keys can be released. If you are buying a property, we will telephone you once your purchase monies have been received by the seller’s solicitors – and the agents will then release the keys to you.


Q. At what time will I be able to move in?
A. The time specified in the contract for completion is usually 2pm, but it can often be earlier, if there is not a long chain involved.

Q. What is the difference between a freehold and a leasehold property?
A. A freehold property is one where you own the property and the land on which the property is built outright. A leasehold property is when you rent the land on which the property is built. Leases can be granted for any number of years but commonly they are from 99 to 999 years. Often leases below 80 years are not very desirable. Therefore as long as you have owned the property for more than two years you will have a legal right to extend the Lease for a premium.

Q. Will there be hidden extras on the final bill?
A. At the outset we will provide an itemised estimate of our fees and are duty bound to inform you of any extra payments as soon as possible.

Q. What should I do in readiness for my house move?
A. Once you have your completion date, you will need to think about organising moving in, and ensure that you:
• Contact gas, electricity, water and telephone suppliers to arrange connection or continuity of service;
• Contact anyone who writes to you regularly with your change of address. You can also get post redirected to your new address for a period for the payment of a fee.
• Don’t forget to tell your employer, current account provider, investment/pension providers, DVLA, TV licensing, children’s schools, doctor, dentist, and anyone else who may need to know that you have moved.

Wills & Probate

What happens if I die and haven’t made a Will?
You are said to have died intestate. Without a Will a set of statutory rules are imposed which leave your estate to your next of kin in a fixed order.  For example, a spouse and children would share an estate exclusively if they survived you but the spouse would only be entitled to a fixed statutory legacy and the remainder would be left in two trust funds partly for the benefit of the spouse and partly for the benefit of the children.
These fixed statutory rules do not provide for an unmarried partner, friends or charities you may have supported.  In fact if you have no next of kin and do not leave a Will, then the whole of your estate will go to the Crown.

Is a Will always effective?
It is possible for a Will to be invalid if it is not written or executed correctly. A Will is an important legal document and as such should always be prepared by a specially trained solicitor or legal executive with the knowledge and experience to ensure that it is valid. Many DIY or home made Wills are incorrectly written and contain mistakes and therefore have a greater chance of being declared invalid. This could cause serious problems for your family and executors when they try to enforce your will and may lead to your wishes not being carried out as intended. It is false economy in the long run to go down this route as a simple Will professionally prepared by a solicitor can be very inexpensive and will give you the peace of mind of knowing that it will be correct and legally enforceable.

Who will look after my children if I die?
You can appoint guardians for children under 18 as part of your Will. This will ensure that should you die your children will be looked after by the people you think are most suitable. This is an area which needs careful consideration and you should discuss it with your solicitor when preparing your Will.

Who will deal with my affairs when I die?
When you prepare a Will you appoint a person or people (up to 4) to deal with your estate in accordance with the terms of your Will, who are called Executors. They have to ascertain the value of your assets as well as any debts you may leave and distribute your money as stated in the Will after settling your debts and paying any taxes which may be due. It can be a family member, a firm of solicitors or anyone you feel would be suitable to carry out your wishes. Being an executor is an important job and your solicitor can give you advice if you wish on who may be suitable. An executor can also be a beneficiary of your Will.

When should I update my Will?
We recommend that you update your Will whenever your circumstances change. This can include changes in your personal or financial circumstances.
Listed below are a few examples of changes which could significantly affect your existing Will:

  • Marriage
  • Separation
  • Divorce
  • Disposal off assets mentioned in your Will
  • Inheritance of new assets
  • Financial changes which could affect your Inheritance Tax liability, such as increases in the value of property or shares

What is Probate, or a Grant of probate ?
When people refer to probate they are typically referring to the entire process of managing a deceased’s persons estate, which broadly encompasses all of their outstanding liabilities, assets, and going concerns.  Generally, in order to deal with a deceased’s persons legal matters, a grant of probate is required, which is a form of court order stating that the executor(s) have power to deal with the deceased’s persons assets and liabilities and to administer the estate.
Typical examples of when a grant of probate is needed are :-

  • The deceased has investments in their sole name such as Stocks, Shares or Insurance Policies. Financial institutions, banks, building societies typically holding such assets ask for a Grant of Probate to be produced before they will release funds.
  • The deceased owned Property in their sole name and a Transfer of Property is required or it is to be sold.

What will happen to the house I own with my wife on my death?

  • Where you and your partner have a joint legal interest in a property your share passes to them on your death. Where a property is owned by more than 2 owners, the death of one joint owner causes that share to pass equally to the remaining joint owners automatically (not withstanding what the Will says)
  • Joint assets are still subject to Inheritance Tax (IHT).

How do executors need to deal with any outstanding debts of the deceased?

  • All debts (including loans to family members) must be identified.
  • All creditors must be informed in writing of the following:-
    • Full details of the executor or administrator
    • when the Grant is expected to be issued
    • when repayment is expected to be made.

How are assets distributed distributed?
Once a Grant of Representation has been granted, all bank accounts have been closed, all property has been sold or transferred, all debts & taxes have been paid and Estate Accounts finalised, then the estate may be distributed to the Beneficiaries in accordance with the Will or intestacy rules (if there is no Will in place). If any Beneficiary is an undischarged bankrupt it must be considered before funds are distributed to that beneficiary.

Does  Capital Gain Tax need to be paid for a  deceased person ?
There may be Capital Gains Tax arising during a person’s lifetime or the period of Administration of the estate.

What happens when probate has been granted?
Once the grant has been issued, the executor needs to contact all the companies and organisations that the deceased had dealings with providing them with an official copy of the grant. At this point, bank accounts can be closed, investments cashed in and bills, funeral expenses and debts can be paid. Once all the assets are identified and all liabilities and any tax paid, the executors can pay any legacies specified in the Will.

Does an executor need to keep accounts?
Yes. Before making payments to beneficiaries, there must be proper accounts, showing the figures at the date of death and all the payments and receipts since then. When these accounts have been approved, all the funds can be paid out and property can be transferred to the people entitled under the Will.

How long should probate take?
It is almost impossible to predict at the start of dealing with an estate how long it is going to take. Traditionally, people talk about the “executor’s year” as usually everything will be wound up within 12 months, although often it will take much less time than this. For estates where there is no inheritance tax to pay, we would suggest that 6 months would be the average timescale. For larger, more complicated estates it could be longer than this – in some extreme cases (usually involving complicated trusts or very valuable estates), it can take several years.

You might typically be ready to apply for the grant of probate (or letters of administration) after 6-8 weeks of starting to deal with the estate. When they receive your application for the grant, the Probate Registry usually send it out within 2 weeks.
If there is a house to be sold or a trust to be set up then the final stage of the administration of the estate could take several weeks or even months before all the funds can be distributed.

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Whitefields Solicitors, 384-388 Hoe Street, London, E17 9AA. Tel: 020 8098 2000, Fax: 020 8558 7912, DX: 32027 Walthamstow

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