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Probate Explained

When someone dies, things are tough enough without having to get your head around all the paperwork that comes with it. Probate gives you the legal right to deal with a person's property, money and possessions after their death. But it's complicated, costly and time consuming. Here we explain what probate is, when you need it, how much it costs, how long it takes, who can apply and how, and where to get help.

probate explained

What is Probate?

Probate is the legal right to deal with someone’s property, other assets, money and possessions – also referred to as their estate – after they have died. If they have left a will, it will name an executor who will administer and organise the distribution of the estate as inheritance, once taxes and any debts have been paid.

To do this, the executor will need to apply for a Grant of Probate from the Probate Registry. You’re not able to make any financial plans, to start to sort out the estate or put a property on the market until you’ve received a Grant of Probate.

Applying for a Grant of Probate is usually one of the first administrative actions that you take after someone has died. It usually takes 8 weeks to obtain a Grant of Probate.

What is Grant of Probate?

Grant of Probate is a legal document that shows banks, building societies, the Land Registry and other organisations that you have the right to deal with someone’s estate after they have died. Grant of Probate is the document used if the deceased has a legal will. Sometimes it is also known as a Grant of Representation.

A grant of probate is required in the case of around 50% of deaths in the UK.

Once this has been obtained, you can sell property, pay off debts, close accounts and divide up the estate in accordance with the will or the law. Probate ends when all the taxes and debts have been paid and inheritance organised.

Can you get probate if there is no will?

If someone dies without a Will (called dying intestate), you can’t get a Grant of Probate. In this case, you will need to obtain what is referred to as a Grant of Letters of Administration. Once this is obtained, you can sell property, pay off debts, close accounts and divide up the estate in accordance with the law. Only spouses, civil partners, children, and other close relatives can inherit under these rules.

See more about the intestacy rules on the government page “Intestacy – who inherits if someone dies without a will

When is a Grant of Probate required?

If you still aren’t sure if a Grant of Probate is required, contact the financial organisations the person who died used (for example, their bank and mortgage company) to find out if you’ll need probate to get access to their assets. Every organisation has its own rules.

You may not need a Grant of Probate if the person who died only had savings or had jointly owned land, property, shares or money – as these will automatically pass to the surviving owners.

Our partners at Guardian Angel have a quick 1 minute quiz to find out if you need to apply for probate. If, yes, their experts can help with the process.

When is a Grant of Probate not required?

A Grant of Probate isn’t always required. It depends on the size and the kind of assets of the person that’s died.

In general, a Grant of Probate is not required:

  • when the person who died only had savings.
  • if the person that has died had a small estate (meaning everything they owned), where no single asset is worth more than £5,000.
  • when the person who died had jointly owned land, property, shares or money – as these will automatically pass to the surviving joint owners.
  • if the person that has died had no legal will, no appointed executors or the executors are unable to deal with the estate. In this case you’ll need to get a Grant of Letters of Administration, or Grant of Letters of Administration with will annexed, as applicable, instead.

Even in the cases where it is not required to administer the estate, there are still other steps that are required after someone dies, such as notifying HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), amongst others.

Take Guardian Angel’s quick and easy quiz to help find out if a Grant of Probate is needed or not.

Who can apply for probate?

When the person who has died had a will, then only the executor(s) appointed in the will can apply for probate.

No will

If the person did not leave a will, the closest living relative can apply. This is normally the husband, wife or civil partner (including if you were separated) followed by any children 18 or over (including legally adopted children but not step-children).

If the person who has died doesn’t have a will or didn’t appoint an executor, then you can’t get a Grant of Probate. Instead, you will need to get a Grant of Letters of Administration, or Grant of Letters of Administration with will annexed, as applicable.

Other requirements

To apply, you must be over 18, have legal capacity and cannot be bankrupt.

If the named executor(s) is out of the country, you can apply on their behalf but this would require an additional guarantee from a bank or insurance company.

A maximum of 4 people can apply for a Grant of Probate.

There is also a minimum of two people, where there is a lifetime trust within the inheritance or one of the beneficiaries of the estate is under 18 years of age.

How long does Grant of Probate take?

You’ll usually get the Grant of Probate within 3-6 weeks of sending in your original documents. But each case is different. And any mistakes or delays can make this much longer.

Once the application is approved it will be sent to you in the post.

Speak to our partners at Guardian Angels to see how they can help remove the hassle and manage the probate process for you.

How long does the probate process take overall?

The whole process can take from 6 to 12 months.

A simple estate with no property involved can be relatively quick. It also depends how much time the executor has available to administer probate. It is a long and complicated process and if you are working full time or have other commitments the process could take longer overall.

How much does probate cost?

You may have to pay a fee to apply for a Grant of Probate. Whether you need to pay depends on the value of the estate. If the value of the estate is over £5,000, the application fee is £215. There’s no fee if the estate is £5,000 or less.

How to obtain Grant of Probate

1. Register the death

The person’s death needs to be registered within 5 days in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and 8 days in Scotland. We recommend buying extra copies of the death certificate at this stage as many companies only accept originals as proof further down the line in the probate process.

2. Value the estate

If you think there is a will and you are named as the executor, you need to track it down, alongside a list of the deceased’s assets and debts. This includes things like:

  • Property
  • Bank accounts
  • Savings accounts
  • Stocks and shares
  • Life Insurance
  • Pensions
  • Any gifts they’ve given in the last 7 years
  • Debts including mortgage details, credit cards, store cards

You’ll then need to contact the banks and savings accounts to work out the value of each asset.

For things like property, this should be the market value if it had been sold on the date of the death. You can get an estimate today using our online valuation tool, but you should contact a valuation surveyor for a more accurate valuation.

Get quotes from local chartered surveyors straight into your inbox today

You then have to publish a statutory advert in the London Gazette and a local newspaper announcing the death. This helps make you aware of any outstanding debts. See more on this below.

3. Work out whether you need a Grant of Probate or not

It is only needed for 50% of deaths in the UK. So there’s no point in doing any of the other steps until you know you need it. It’s usually required if:

  • The total value of the estate is worth £10,000 or more
  • The estate includes more than one solely-owned asset.

Take Guardian Angel’s quick and easy quiz to help find out if a Grant of Probate is needed or not.

4. Prepare the documentation to obtain inheritance tax assessment and the Grant of Probate

Even when you don’t need a Grant of Probate to administer the estate, HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) will always need to be notified of the death.

You’ll need to fill out an inheritance tax form (IHT205, IHT217 or IHT400 – depending on your situation)

Usually, you don’t need to pay Inheritance Tax if:

  • The value of the estate is below £325,000
  • Everything above £325,000 is left to the person’s spouse, civil partner, a charity or a community amateur sports club.

If you have to pay inheritance tax, you must send the appropriate forms to HMRC and wait 20 working days before applying for a Grant of Probate. You can access the relevant forms for inheritance tax here and for further guidance see inheritance tax.

This process can be complex so lots of people choose to get help from experts. Our partners at Guardian Angel can help sort this for you for as little as £499. 

5. Applying for the Grant of Probate:

It is possible to apply online if:

  • You have a death certificate
  • You have the will (if applicable)
  • The person who died lived permanently in England or Wales, or intended to return here
  • You have filled in an Inheritance Tax (IHT) form
  • The person died on or after 1 October 2014
  • You are the spouse, civil partner or child of the person who died
  • You are not planning to make a joint application with other representatives

If you fulfil these conditions, you can apply on the government website.

If you cannot apply online, see links below to the forms you need to apply via post. They list all of the documents that are required to sit alongside the application:

  • Form PA1P: Apply for probate where your loved one has left a will.
  • Form PA1A: Apply for probate where the person who has died did not leave a will.

During the application process the people applying will be asked how many official copies (called office copies) of the Grant of Probate they need. Usually you’ll need a few as the copies will need to be used to register with multiple organisations and banks etc. (See next step).

6. Register the Grant of Probate with the relevant parties

The Grant of Probate needs to be registered with any place that the person that has died had assets, e.g. bank, building society or the Land Registry before administering the estate. This proves to them that the personal representative(s) have the right to deal with the relevant asset(s).

Register using copies rather than the original grant itself, as they often fail to return it and it can’t be replaced.

Help with Probate

When someone has died, wading through paperwork and legal jargon is the last thing you want to be doing.

Lots of people choose to get support from experts to take some of the headache out of this process. That’s why we have partnered with Guardian Angel.

For £499 Guardian Angel will work through the above steps for you. 

Guardian Angel can obtain your Grant of Probate for you without all the hassle, so that you can focus on everything else you’re juggling.

Their service costs only £499. And for that, they can help you with all of the forms and the application itself, by acting as your attorney. Saving you time and money.

What happens after Grant of Probate is obtained?

When the Probate Registry has issued the Grant of Probate, the personal representative is fully empowered to administer the estate.

Only then can you start the process of selling a house and dividing up the estate. This usually takes 3-6 months and includes things like:

  • Putting the house on the market, or transferring the house to beneficiaries
  • Completing an inheritance tax return and paying off any taxes such as income tax, inheritance tax or capital gains tax
  • Paying off any debts that were owed by your loved one
  • Closing bank accounts and centralising assets
  • Claiming any Life Insurance policies
  • Distributing the remaining estate to the beneficiaries as outlined in the will or by law

Probate notices in newspapers

Before you distribute the estate, it is important to note that the law recommends that Executors, trustees and personal representatives place a statutory advertisement in the London Gazette newspaper. If the deceased owned property, a statutory advertisement should also be placed in the paper local to where the property is situated.

While not a legal requirement, placing a deceased estates notice ensures that sufficient effort has been made to locate creditors before distributing the estate to beneficiaries. This protects the executor or trustee from being liable for any unidentified creditors.

No distribution of funds or appropriation of assets should be made from the Estate during the advertisement period (which is recommended as 2 months). This notifies potential creditors or Beneficiaries of the death so that they have an opportunity to make their claim against the Estate and also makes you aware of any outstanding debts.

If you find any debts are greater than the value of the assets within the estate, you should consult a solicitor. The law establishes an order of priority for paying debts in these circumstances, which will need to be followed.

Related guides:

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