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It is always the chattels that cause the greatest number of headaches. This is the

often-heard comment of solicitors or executors dealing with a deceased's estate. The damaged, the dirty and the gaudy may be hidden gems or may be just what they appear to be – tiresome bulk to be disposed of.

It is vitally important to have the technical assistance of an experienced valuer to tread a safe path through this potential minefield. The valuer and auctioneer's world is ever-more competitive, bringing more user-friendly services to the executor and their legal adviser.

Valuation work in general and probate valuations in particular are as much a case of

attaching valuations and attributions to items as they are of creating a financial rationale from the anarchy of a house's contents, the valuation document being a logical financial presentation of the estate.

To ease the life of the executor it is important for the valuer to think at least two steps ahead. Although the primary purpose of the probate valuation is to provide official 'evidence' to the Capital Taxes Office regarding the values of chattels in a deceased estate, its secondary uses are of a far wider nature. It forms the basis on which the executors can arrange for dispersal of the estate to beneficiaries by auction and assist in the processing of specific bequests.

It is no longer acceptable in all but the smallest properties for the valuer to wander around and list the contents in an ad hoc and unstructured manner. The valuation should be by category and room by room within each category, the former making life easier should the estate be subsequently entered for auction, the latter aiding identification. For probate purposes the descriptions need to be concise but they must also remain accurate and unambiguous.

Given that specific bequests may equally be of either monetary or only sentimental value, it is more appropriate for these to be provided as a separate listing even if there is a level of duplication rather than twist the financial rationale of the probate valuation itself.

Significant advances have been made by the leading valuers and auctioneers in addressing the threat posed to an estate by the criminal fraternity. Assuming the most important step has been taken and a valuer has advised on probate valuation, or at the very least an inspection to identify anything of value, there is still the problem of securing the chattels most at risk. It is easy to keep jewellery and silver in an office safe, less so to secure furniture or pictures. Many valuers strike deals with specialist insurers to ensure cover of a vacant property at probate prices or provide their own secure storage.

Where either part or the whole of an estate needs to be entered for auction, the executor can now expect a higher standard of ancillary services, tailored to their particular needs. These services can include the provision of a central probate administrator, tracking the estate through the auctions and providing an audit of this process, and various payment options and 'quick sale' where time is of the essence.

It is fair to say that although valuers continue to provide an essential service to executors, this service is now more extensive and of a higher standard than at any time before. Probate valuation services have truly come of age. And, if you are not offered a high level of service and expertise, it could well be time to change your valuer.

Tim Ritchie is an associate director at Phillips International Auctioneers and Valuers.