Home economics: Sinead Ryan answers your property questions
My father died last month and we have just discovered that he never put the family home in my mother's name, although they lived there for 45 years. He did have a will, leaving everything to her, but I'm told this may cause a legal issue and we need to apply for a grant of probate. What is this and how do we go about it? Myself and my brother are named as executors on the will.
A. A grant of probate is the legal transfer of title from one person to another after death, where there is a will directing the beneficiary. It is called letters of administration where there is no will.
The good news is that your father's will has made his wishes clear, and this will simplify the process no end. The bad news is that yes, you will probably need to apply for probate and this process is both lengthy and expensive.
Generally a transfer of assets jointly owned in life, from one spouse to another doesn't attract the need for probate, but if there is property valued at more than around €20,000 then it becomes necessary and it is your job, as executor, to make sure everything is completed properly and that assets are distributed to beneficiaries named in the will. Failure to do so can result in penalties down the line.
While you can apply for probate yourself (see www.courts.ie for the necessary documentation) it is a messy process; charges begin on a sliding scale starting at €270 on the first €125,000 of the estate's valuation, and €24 per each €31,250 thereafter.
Most people use a solicitor, but you should absolutely negotiate a fee for this work before commencing, as it may be based on a percentage of the entire estate, on top of the probate fees themselves (which, as an aside are half those charged to a private applicant).
Recent research by Royal London insurance revealed huge delays in the probate system. It found that it can take well over a year for it to be granted, compared to three to four weeks in the UK. This presents families with huge problems.
However, your mother is residing in the house, and that won't change.
If there are life insurance policies or other assets such as bank accounts which don't name her as beneficiary however, these may be held up or frozen until probate is granted.
In addition, any spouse's pension your father had may not be processed until the provider has proof your mother is the beneficiary of it. In many cases, a death cert is sufficient, but do check.
Q. I'm confused over my property tax. I thought it was up for renewal in 2018 but I was told by my neighbour it isn't until the following year. How much will I have to pay? My house is now worth around €525,000 but this is quite a bit more than it was when we started paying it first, and I'm worried they'll come after us for under paying.
A. You may be worrying unnecessarily. Property Tax is due every year, on January 1, based on occupancy of the house the previous November. The amount, however, has been fixed since it was first valued in 2013 and won't be re-calculated now until November 1, 2019.
As long as you have paid the appropriate tax each year based on the original valuation, there's nothing more for you to do. When the tax is based on the new valuation in two years' time, the amount due will undoubtedly jump.
We don't know quite by how much, since local authorities will now be allowed set the amount of the tax within certain parameters, but based on it remaining at the current rate of 0.18pc, that would land you a bill of €945.
Revenue is not going to seek under-payments for the intervening years, so please don't worry. In the meantime, make sure that you notify them how you wish to pay for 2018, when it falls due this year as usual.