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Your guide to probate

How do I apply for probate?

How do I apply for probate?

When someone passes on it can be a really difficult time for those left behind. Not only do you need to cope with the distress of losing someone but there is also the matter of organising their affairs.

One of the main things to do after a bereavement is to handle probate and in this guide, we’ll help you through the process.

What is probate?

Probate (called confirmation in Scotland) is the formal process of administering the distribution of a person’s estate.

To do this you must apply for the legal right to carry out probate and this is known as a ‘grant of representation’.

The process is different depending upon whether the person concerned has left a Will or if they have died without making a Will (intestate)

If the deceased died intestate then their family or friends will need to apply for a ‘grant of letters of administration’.

This allows them to decide what should happen to the person’s assets and to pay off any debts that they may have had.

When someone dies with a Will then they will have appointed an executor as part of the Will making process and in this case, it is they who will need to apply for a grant of representation.

This is done by formally requesting a ‘grant of probate’ which then allows them to administer the estate according to the instructions set out in the Will.

Will everybody have to use probate?

Surprisingly not every estate has to go through the formal probate procedure.

Small estates, usually with a value of less than £5,000 won’t need to go through probate.

We say ‘usually’ because one of the things that determine whether you need a grant of probate is the policy of the banks and financial institutions of the deceased.

Many require proof of a grant of probate to allow an executor to administer the bank accounts of the estate but the level at which then need this proof is different for every institution.

If a person has an estate where all the assets are held jointly with another person (usually their partner) then all of the assets will pass automatically to the surviving person and in this case, probate will not be required.

Does the grant of probate take very long?

Generally speaking, it will take around four to eight weeks to obtain a grant of probate.

A simple estate where a Will exists and with a correctly completed application will probably take between three to five weeks.

However, for more complex estates or where there isn’t a Will and a grant of letters of administration are required the process will take longer.

Once probate has been granted then to carry out the full process of probate will, of course, take much longer and again will depend upon the complexity of the estate.

Can I carry out probate myself?

The answer is yes.

If you have been appointed as an executor or if you are a close family member who has taken on the task then there’s no reason why you can’t apply for a grant of probate and administer the deceased estate on your own.

The process can be complex, and you should be prepared to carry out several administrative tasks including, paying inheritance tax, capital gains tax, paying off any debts, distributing the estate to beneficiaries, dealing with estate agents etc.

You can resign as an executor and pass the role onto a professional if needed.

Step by step guide to probate

At the start of the process, probate can seem a daunting task but the good news is that it can be relatively straightforward as long as you go through a series of steps in the correct order.

Step 1 – Register the death

This needs to be done within 5 days in England, Wales and NI or eight in Scotland and it is usually done by a relative.

If you a relative is not able to do this then it can be done by someone who was there at the time of death, a hospital or hospice administrator or the person who will be organising the funeral arrangements.

If you do this at the local register office to where the death happened you will be given the documents on the day but bear in mind that you may need to make an appointment depending upon your local arrangements.

Before you go make sure you have the medical certificate of death, the person’s birth certificate, marriage or civil partnership certificate.

You will also need a change of name certificate if there is one and if they are available the person’s driving licence, NHS number and any other documents that prove the name and address of the person such as utility bills of passport.

When you register you’ll get a certificate for burial or cremation and a certificate of registration of death.

At this point, we’d strongly advise getting more copies of the death certificate as they are often cheaper at this point and you are better top have them than waste time trying to get copies later.

There are two useful services that can prove invaluable at this point.

The first is the government’s ‘tell us once’ service which allows you to report the passing of the person to local authorities, DHSS and the taxman. Unfortunately, this isn’t available for every local authority so you will need to check here. Tell us once

The second service is run by the banks’ trade association which again allows you to report the death which will then be notified to the person’s bank. The Death Notification Service

Step 2 – check for a Will

At this point, it is important to try and find if there is a Will.

Often people put their wishes for their funeral arrangements in their Will and this will be useful in guiding your thoughts.

Also contained within the Will is the name of the executor (there can be more than one) who will be administering the estate.

If there isn’t a Will then the family will need to decide who should act as the administrator of the estate and if a grant of probate is required, apply for this.

Step 3 – Secure any tangible assets

It’s a sad commentary on the state of society but people will often scour the death notices in the local paper and then target their home for a burglary.

This is because often the home is empty either because it was a single person that passed on or because their partner is staying with relatives temporarily.

It is also somewhat disheartening to note that some beneficiaries may try to take valuable property for themselves rather than allow it to go through the probate process.

Securing any valuable assets is a good move at this point by removing them from the property and storing them securely. Our sister website can offer executors, assistance with securing property and any assets with pay later options. For more information got to; Securing property. 

Step 4 – Gather all the documentation

To apply for a grant of probate you will need to form an accurate view of the deceased estate.

You’ll need to find any life insurance, investments, bank or building society accounts and check what they are worth.

If the deceased owned a house then you will also have to get a valuation on the property.

At the same time as valuing the all of the assets of the estate, you will need to do the same thing for any debts such as bank loans, mortgages etc.

Once you have a final figure for the value of the estate then you can submit in inheritance tax form an, if the estate is valued at more than the allowance (currently £325,000) pay any tax due.

Tax has to be paid before the grant of probate can be issued.

Step 5 – Inform organisations.

When you gather all of the documentation you need it is sensible to make a note of all the organisations that the deceased had a relationship with.

These will include utility providers, pension companies, credit card companies. Indeed, any organisation or individual who may need to know.

Doing this early on will also maximise the estate as subscriptions and rentals will continue to be charged until they receive a notification of a death.

Step 6 – Apply for the grant of probate

By this point, you have all the documentation regarding the death and the estate and you have proof that tax has been paid and so you can apply for a grant of probate.

At this point, you’ll need to fill in form PA1P which is the probate application form.

When you send this in you will also need to include; inheritance tax form IHT205 or IHT400, an original copy of the death certificate and the original Will and three copies.

This can also be done online however you will need to send the original and copies of the Will.

Step 7 – pay off any debts

Once you have received a grant of probate you can then start to organise the estate.

Before you begin to pay off debts then it is a good idea to place an advertisement in the local paper and potentially the London Gazette which will avoid any unknown creditors making a claim on the estate later.

If there is cash available then before you do anything else you will need to settle any debts of the deceased such as credit cards, overdrafts etc.

These should be prioritised with secured debts being paid first and unsecured later.

If there isn’t enough in the estate to pay everyone then there are rules that determine who should be paid first and how much.

It’s always worth checking to see if there were any insurance products included in things like loans that settle the balance on death.

Step 8 – make any life insurance and pension claims

When you did your document search you may have found insurance or pension policies that can be claimed on.

Generally speaking, most people nominate beneficiaries for these types of products and so the pay-out will be made directly and won’t form part of the estate and if they were written into trust there will be no inheritance tax payable.

If beneficiaries haven’t been selected then the cash will be paid to the estate.

Pension plans have different rules depending upon the scheme structure and so you will need to speak with the pension company to find out what will happen.

Step 8 – decide what to do with any property

By this point, you will have a clear idea as to what assets are available in the estate.

Some of these may be specifically gifted in the Will but others may just form part of the estate.

For some executors, the option of sending everything to auction is the best move as it releases cash quickly and it is a clear and open process. However, there will be fees to pay and the asset may not make as much when sold in a different way.

It is always a good idea to speak with the family about what assets are left as some may hold precious memories and they may wish to buy them from the estate.

Similarly, for the house of the deceased, you may wish to make repairs to maximise the value or choose to sell quickly to ensure that the estate has cash to distribute as soon as you can.

Our sister website can offer executors a completely free property sales service saving potentially thousands of pounds through our modern property auction model. This not to be confused with traditional in the room property auctions.

For more information go to FREE property sales.

Step 9 – Distribute the remainder of the estate

By the time you get to this point, you may well have distributed any assets that have specifically been gifted, paid off any debts and realised cash on the sale of assets.

All that is left is to distribute the remaining value.

Again, this should have been handled in the Will in which case all you will need to do is to follow the deceased’s instructions.

If the person has died without a Will then there is a strict order in which to distribute the value and you can find out more here.

If the beneficiaries all agree then you can distribute in a different manner.

How much will probate cost?

The cheapest way to carry out probate is to do it yourself and indeed this may well be the best option if the estate is small and simple.

The cost of applying for a grant of probate is £155 through a solicitor, £500 -£700 if you do it yourself free if the estate is less than £5,000. You can find out more using our handy probate calculator here; Probate Calculator.

For larger and more complex estates, or where no-one is willing to serve then you can always appoint a probate specialist or solicitor.

Naturally, this will cost money but for many people it is money well spent as it gives them peace of mind that everything is done properly in this area that can become complex very quickly.

Is it worth doing probate yourself?

The question you may be asking yourself is whether after all this it is worth carrying out probate yourself.

The answer, of course, is that ‘it depends’.

If you want to maximise the value of the estate, have time and the ability to do it and the estate is relatively simple then it makes sense to think about carrying out the duties yourself.

Alternatively, if you aren’t comfortable in dealing with admin and numbers, you don’t have time or if there are complex trusts and a complicated Will then you may wish to engage a specialist.

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