1. What are the differences between an estate with a Will and an estate without a Will (in relation to the Grant of Representation)?

A "Grant of Representation" is the collective term for a "Grant of Probate" or a "Grant of Letters of Administration".

A Grant of Probate is a Grant given to the executor (or executrix, in case of a female) named in the last Will of the deceased person. Whilst a Grant of Letters of Administration is a Grant given to an administrator who is the next-of-kin (e.g. the deceased's spouse, child or parent, etc.) where there is no Will, or where no executor has been appointed in the Will.

A "Personal Representative" is a general term for either an executor or an administrator. This Personal Representative has the authority to deal with the deceased's estate, such as to manage and distribute the relevant assets to the beneficiaries.

With a Will

If the deceased died testate (i.e. he/she had made a Will appointing an executor), the executor is the only person who is entitled to apply for a Grant of Probate of the Will. If the executor does not wish to take up the appointment, or if no executor appointed by the deceased survives, then the person entitled to the residuary legacy in the Will has priority to apply for a Grant of Letters of Administration (with the relevant Will annexed). The person entitled to the residuary legacy is the person who can take the remainder of the deceased’s estate after all the other conditions of the Will have been met (i.e. other beneficiaries have been paid, and all the debts and administration expenses have been settled).

Without a Will

If the deceased died intestate (i.e. no Will is found or if the Will has been revoked), the right of a person to apply for a Grant of Letters of Administration would be governed by the law of intestacy. Under rule 21 of the Non-Contentious Probate Rules (Cap. 10A of the Laws of Hong Kong), the order of priority is as follows:

  1. the surviving spouse or the surviving partner or partners to a union of concubinage (e.g. the second wife (and the third….) taken during the life of the first wife) entered into before 7 October 1971;
  2. the children of the deceased including any children born of a union of concubinage entered into before 7 October 1971, or the issue of any such child who has died during the lifetime of the deceased;
  3. the father or mother of the deceased;
  4. the brothers and sisters of the deceased or the "issue" of any deceased brother or sister of the deceased who has died during the lifetime of the deceased.

(Note: "Issue" has a special meaning in the succession law which is different from the daily usage. It means any descendants of a person.)

The maximum number of administrators (or adminstratrix in case of a female) of an estate is four . When there is a dispute between persons entitled to a Grant in the same degree (i.e. they are all equally entitled to apply for the Grant), an application has to be made to the High Court to determine who will be appointed as administrators.

The High Court also has the power to appoint a person who is not in the above hierarchy to administer the estate. This power is useful when the next-of-kin of the deceased, who would otherwise be entitled to be appointed as administrator, is under 21 years old or has insufficient mental or physical capacity to administer the estate.

One major difference between an executor and an administrator

Although the powers of an executor and an administrator are almost the same, there is one major difference. The power of an executor stems directly from the Will. Therefore, his/her authority and duty as an executor starts from the very moment the testator (the "Will-maker") dies.

An administrator, on the other hand, receives the relevant powers from the Grant of Letters of Administration. Therefore, his/her power to act starts from the date of the Grant but not from the date of the death of the deceased.

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