These situations usually (but not always) arise where there is no valid Will. In these situations, a key consideration is to preserve the estate so that, pending the resolution of the dispute, the value of the estate can be realised in full and held securely.
In these situations, it may be possible to obtain a grant ad colligenda bona. This grant, which means “collecting the goods”, confers authority upon a temporary administrator to realise the assets of the estate. Critically, there is no requirement to prove the existence or otherwise of a Will. The temporary administrator may then collect the assets of the estate, and has the power to sell any property, but can do nothing else until a full grant is made. This can be extremely useful where, for example, a property needs to be sold. Just like a full grant of representation, any inheritance tax due must be settled before the grant can be issued.
As the grant is one of administration, any interested party may apply to be appointed, including a professional. In a contentious dispute, this may be the preferred option, as the professional must adopt an objective neutral approach to the administration quite separate to the contentious litigation.
Because it is reserved for unusual situations, the process can be complicated. It consists of submitting sworn affidavits and an application to the Probate Registry, who will review the application to check its suitability. Assuming it is granted and the tax settled, a special probate oath is sworn and the grant then issues. Once the purpose of the grant is fulfilled, (i.e. the assets are collected in) the administration pauses, and can only be resumed once a full grant is issued. Any money collected must be held by the administrator, and not distributed. If a solicitor is acting, the funds will be held on their client account. Administrators must be careful not to exceed the limits of the grant, as they could be held personally liable for any financial consequences of acting beyond their powers.
Further steps will then be necessary to establish who is entitled to benefit from the estate, if the position is unclear or disputed.