Probate is a key process that occurs after a death, but many people don’t know exactly what it is.

What is probate? 

Some of the confusion around probate stems from the fact that the term ‘probate’ can refer to two things:

  1. The process of winding up someone’s estate. This involves dealing with every loose end from the person’s finances, including paying off any debts, calling in any loans and distributing all assets in accordance with their Will.
  2. A Grant of Probate, which is a legal document issued by the government that gives the executors of a Will the right to act on the behalf of a person who has died.
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When is probate needed?

In most cases, you will need to apply for a Grant of Probate when administering an estate. However, there are some exceptions to this.

You may not need to apply for probate if the estate is worth less than £10,000. The estate could also be exempt if all assets are jointly owned, or if the estate is made up of only savings or premium bonds.

In cases where you are unsure whether probate is needed, we recommend that you contact the financial institutions where the person who has died held accounts. They will be able to tell you whether they will require a Grant of Probate to allow you to access those accounts.

If the person who has died did not leave a Will, the process will be slightly different. In these cases, you will need to apply for a Letters of Administration instead of a Grant of Probate.

You can read more about your legal responsibilities after the death of a loved one in our free ebook What to Do When Someone Dies.

Who is responsible for applying for probate?

When the person who has died left a Will, only the people who are named as executors in that Will have the right to apply for a Grant of Probate.

If the person did not leave a valid Will, their closest relatives will need to apply for Letters of Administration on their behalf. Legally speaking, their closest relative will usually be a spouse, civil partner or child (so long as they are over 18).

There may be situations where it’s unclear who should be applying for a Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration. In these situations, a specialist probate solicitor will be able to advise you on how to proceed.

What are the steps of the process?

Managing probate is not necessarily complicated, but it can be tedious and long-winded.

In the case of more straight-forward estates, it may be possible to manage the whole process yourself. For more complex estates, you may benefit from working alongside a professional. Many families also choose to work with a solicitor specialising in probate if they don’t have the time to take on the responsibility themselves.

Step one: Register the death

The first task in the process is to register the death of the person who has died and get copies of the death certificate.

Step two: Value the estate

You will need to conduct a full assessment of the value of the person’s estate, including:

  • Bank accounts
  • Savings accounts
  • Property
  • Assets (including vehicles, jewellery, art, antiques and collectibles)
  • Pensions
  • Stocks, shares and bonds
  • Debts (including loans, mortgages, tax liabilities and utility bills)

You will need to contact all institutions that the person who has died had financial dealings with in order to notify them of the death and to ask for a final account statement. These organisations will usually freeze the accounts until you are ready to start administering them.

Step three: Complete probate application form

Once you have fully valued the estate, you can then complete and submit a probate application at gov.uk. You will need to pay a fee to apply for probate.

Step four: Complete inheritance tax forms

When you submit a probate application, you will also need to submit an inheritance tax form to HMRC.

Step five: Pay any inheritance tax that’s due

If there is any inheritance tax due on the estate, this will need to be paid before probate can be granted.

How this is paid will depend on the circumstances of the estate. It may be possible to arrange for a payment to be made directly from the bank account of the person who has died. Alternatively, the executors may need to cover the cost of the tax themselves and claim the money back from the estate later on.

How much does it cost?

You will need to pay a fee when you apply for a Grant of Probate. In England and Wales it costs £215 if you apply yourself and £155 if a solicitor applies on your behalf. If the estate is worth less than £5,000, you will be exempt from paying the fee altogether.

You will receive one copy of the Grant of Probate. Extra copies cost £1.50 each.

How long will it take?

It is difficult to give a clear indication of how long it can take to complete the process of probate and receive a Grant of Probate. This is because the timeline can vary hugely, especially for more complex estates.

Simpler estates might be wound up in a matter of months, but estates that include complicating factors such as overseas assets or inheritance disputes could take a year or more to resolve.

Actually applying for and receiving a Grant of Probate is often the fastest part of the process. Once your application is submitted correctly, you should receive your Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration within four weeks. However, due to coronavirus applications are currently taking up to eight weeks to process.

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If you would like to discuss the process for applying for a grant of probate, or if you are unsure whether probate is required, please contact us.

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