What is Probate?

Probate is the legal and financial process of dealing with the money and possessions of someone who has died and settling the deceased’s estate, including its debts

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What is Probate?

In England and Wales, to gain permission to manage the probate process, you need to apply for a Grant of Probate. Only the executor named in the Will can apply for a Grant of Probate to administer the deceased’s estate.

There are also separate rules you must follow if someone dies without a Will – otherwise known as dying intestate – and the intestacy rules will outline who can administer the estate instead.

A Grant of Probate

Before an executor named in a Will can claim, transfer, sell or distribute any assets, they need a Grant of Probate.

The executor of the Will needs to apply to the Probate Registry for a Grant of Probate.  This legal document gives the executor the authority to administer the estate and distribute the inheritance. The executor cannot obtain assets or settle liabilities in the estate until they receive the Grant of Probate, which is why the current delays at the Probate Registry in issuing this essential document are causing so much anxiety and frustration.

Letters of Administration

The Intestacy Rules specify who is the person entitled to obtain a Grant in an estate where there is no Will. This is a Grant of Letters of Administration and once issued will give that person the same authority as is given by a Grant of Probate. An application will need to be made to the Probate Registry in the same way as for a Grant of Probate.

When is Probate Required?

Probate is Required in England or Wales when:
  • Property (houses, buildings or land) is owned by the deceased.
  • A Grant of Representation is required by a bank or other financial institution with which the deceased held assets. This is normally if the amount in the account is over the specific threshold set by that institution*.

*Banks and other financial institutions set their own limit above which Probate will be required, so it’s worth checking with the individual organisation as to whether or not they require a Grant of Representation.

The probate process

Although every estate is unique and the process can vary depending on the instructions left in the Will – and other factors such as the estate’s assets, its beneficiaries and its creditors – the basic steps involved in probate are as follows:

  1. Compile all the details of the estate’s assets and debts
  2. Complete an inheritance tax return and pay any tax due
  3. Apply to the Probate Registry for a Grant of Probate
  4. On receipt of the Grant of Probate, obtain the assets in the estate and repay the deceased’s outstanding debts
  5. Once the debts have been settled, distribute the estate in accordance with the Will.

The probate process can be delayed if there are for example any disputes between HMRC, the DWP,  beneficiaries or creditors, and of course if the Will is disputed.

Appointing a Solicitor to help you is be a good idea and, if you are dealing with a complex estate, essential.

How long should the process take?

Once you have submitted your application to the Probate Registry, it should take between three to four weeks to receive a Grant of Probate.  At the moment however with the delays at the Probate Registry Grants are taking up to three months to issue.

Without complications, on average a straightforward probate takes between six to nine months to complete.  Estates that own property that are difficult to value or have complex assets– such as rare collectables – will take longer to deal with as this will delay filing the required estate tax return to HMRC.

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