Q&A - Client died before settling account for building work - what can I do?

Q: I am owed money for building work I did nine months ago. When I chased the lady for payment her son rang me saying she had been taken ill and was in hospital. Out of consideration I waited a couple of months before writing to request settlement of my account. This time the son rang and said his mother had died and as probate had not been granted on her estate no payment could be made to me until that happened.

It is clearly a big estate and I am worried firstly that I could be outstanding a considerable sum of money for a long time and secondly that I may never even know when probate is granted. What should I do?

A:  Until a Grant of Probate has been issued no-one has the legal capacity to call in the assets of the deceased, or similarly to pay any debts. Further, it is no-one's responsibility to pay any debts. 

In practical terms it can take some time before a Grant is issued, though it does vary from case to case. In the meantime it would be advisable for you to exercise a degree of tact and patience, especially in light of the fact that the lady in question has died and given that you cannot force her beneficiaries to pay the debt from their own funds.  On the information provided it suggests there will be sufficient assets to settle your debt when probate is granted, so you should chase for payment again in say three months' time if no further information has been received. Alternatively, for a modest cost, you could commission a standing search from a solicitor to see if a Grant has been issued.

Victoria Wilson

Victoria Wilson


A Partner and Head of our Probate, Wills, Trusts and Tax team