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What Is Probate?

Life Insurance

Dealing with the emotions surrounding death is difficult enough but once a loved one passes away, someone has to deal with their estate. In most situations, a grant of probate is given to the executor of a will to carry out the deceased wishes.

In this probate guide we’ll go through what probate is, how it is done and the problems that can arise with it. By the time you get to the end, you should feel comfortable with the process.

What is probate?

Someone dies either with or without a will. If then had a will then they would have elected someone to administer their wishes and this person is called the executor. Before they can do this, they need to apply a Grant of Probate which is a document that gives them legal authority.

If there is no will, then you instead apply for a Grant of Administration. While technically not probate, it is often referred to as such and the same rules apply once it has been granted. This can get more complicated in terms of who can apply for a Grant of Administration but this is usually the closest living relative.

How to apply for a Grant of Probate?

Most people will complete the process through a solicitor or a probate specialist but if you wanted to do it yourself, you can. If there is inheritance tax to pay then you’ll need to complete this process before the probate application.

In terms of cost, there is no fee for probate on any estate under the value of £5,000 and a payment of £215 for anything above that about. Extra copies of probate cost £1.50 and it's worth it to get a few as otherwise, the process of sending off and waiting to receive the document can be lengthy.

You can either apply for probate online or via post. To do so you’ll need to have the original will and also the original death certificate. Once you’ve applied it can take up to four weeks to receive a Grant of Probate and then you can start settling the estate.

The probate process

The complete process of probate essentially starts when a person dies and ends when you’ve completed dividing their estate. Here we look at all the steps to follow.

1. Registering the death

There is a register office for every local area and this is where the death would need to be registered. This is required to be completed within 8 days in Scotland and 5 days within the rest of the UK unless the death has been reported to the coroner. You’ll then receive the certificate of registration of death, which can then be passed onto everyone who needs to be informed such as the HMRC, council, banks and insurance companies. This can be an exhausting process but there are a few services that can help such as the Tell Us Once service from the government and Death Notification Service for financial institutions.

2. Finding the will

You want to find the will immediately, as it could have instructions regarding the deceased’s wishes upon death. It’s likely that a person already knows they are to be the executor and should know how to find the will. This is usually left with a solicitor or they may have decided to keep it in a safe place at home or with a bank.

3. Applying for a Grant of Probate

The next step is to apply for the Grant of Probate as we went through earlier. This includes completing an inheritance tax form and paying any tax due. There is a threshold of £325,000 and if the estate is valued below that, no tax needs to be paid.

4. Pay all debts

If the deceased had any solely liable mortgages, loans, credit cards, arrears etc. then these would need to paid from the estate. If there are any debts in joint name, then they will continue as a sole debt. If there is not enough money in the estate to pay off sole debts, then these will be written off.

Secured debts, such as the mortgage, would be expected to be paid first and then funeral costs and unsecured debts, such as a credit card. Even if there is no money left in the estate, you should contact all creditors to inform them of the situation and close all accounts.

5. Sharing out assets

Once you have completed the above steps, you can then distribute the assets in accordance with the will. This is usually fairly simple and families often work out themselves how to divide sentimental assets such as personal effects. If there is no will, then families will often do what they think is fairly but rules of intestacy are in pace for assets to go to their closest living relative.

Can you contest probate?

You can challenge the will for a variety of reasons.

  1. If you think the will is forged
  2. The deceased had reduced mental capacity while writing it
  3. You think they were under undue influence
  4. You were financially dependent on the deceased and the will doesn’t provide for you If you think that any of these apply then you can contact a solicitor to contest the will.

Can I do probate on my own?

Many people choose to use a specialist to conduct the probate process rather than do it themselves. Even if it is a fairly simple estate, many people prefer to leave it to a specialist as going through the legalities of the probate at an emotionally traumatic time can be stressful. It can also be worth appointing a specialist if the estate is particularly complicated. Complications can include working out inheritance tax, a wide range of assets, concerns about the content of the will, complex assets and insolvency. If you’re not comfortable with that you’re doing, then paying for help can be for the best.

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