Q&A - Client died owing me over £20k for landscaping work. What can I do?

Q:  I landscaped a client’s garden last Spring. I sent her my invoice for £16k but heard nothing. After chasing twice I called round. No one was in but the neighbour told me the lady had died. She gave me the client’s son’s phone number but when I rang he said there was nothing he could do about paying me, as probate had not been granted on her estate. As she seemed to be quite wealthy I imagine it could take a while for things to be sorted - but doesn’t a debt die with you anyway? Will I get paid? 

A: Debts in a deceased person’s sole name can be paid out of the value of their estate. However, until a Grant of Probate has been issued no-one has the legal capacity to call in the deceased’s assets, or similarly to pay any debts. Further, it is no-one else’s responsibility to pay any debts and any surviving spouse, civil partner or relative cannot be required to pay off the deceased’s debts out of their own pocket, unless they have provided a personal guarantee. If there are insufficient assets in the estate to pay off the debts they will be written off or reduced proportionately, but in those circumstances some debts have preference over others.

In practical terms it can take some time before a Grant is issued, though it varies from case to case. In the meantime it would be advisable for you to remain in touch with the deceased’s son so that you know when Probate is granted. From what you say it seems there will be sufficient assets to settle your debt. If you feel uncomfortable chasing the deceased’s son or are concerned that he won’t let you know when probate is granted, you could commission a standing search from a solicitor to see if a Grant has been issued. 

Article November 2019

Victoria Wilson

Victoria Wilson

Partner

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

Michael Keeling

Michael Keeling

Partner

Partner and Head of our Property and Probate, Wills, Tax and Trusts team in Llangollen and Chirk.