When someone dies, a person (usually a relative, partner, or close friend) may need to apply for probate in order to carry out the wishes in the deceased’s will. This person will normally be named as the ‘executor’ in the will.
Applying for probate means getting the court’s permission to obtain a document that gives you the legal authority to share out the estate of the deceased – as per the instructions in the will.
Once permission has been granted, a person is said to have obtained a ‘grant of probate’ or a ‘grant of letters of administration’.
Applying for probate is usually not difficult, unless the estate is particularly complicated, but here is a guide on what to expect during the process.
The First Step – Register the Death
Before doing anything else, you need to register the death. This needs to be done within the first 5 days of the death occurring.
A relative needs to do this, but if they can’t, it can also be done by:
- Someone present at the time of death
- An administrator from the hospital (if the person died in hospital)
- Someone who is in charge of making the funeral arrangements (this does not mean the funeral director)
If the person dies at their home, you will need to call their GP to inform them of the death. If the person dies in a hospice or care home, some of the process may be done automatically by staff. The doctor will issue a certificate that confirms the cause of death and tells you how exactly to register the death.
Once the death has been registered, you’ll receive a certificate for burial or cremation which gives permission for the burial or cremation and allows you to start arranging the funeral.
Check If You Need Probate
Applying for probate may not always be necessary, so make sure you check first. You can contact organisations such as the deceased’s bank to see if you’ll need probate to access the assets. Every company has different rules.
You might not need to apply for probate if the person who died:
- Only had savings (and no other assets)
- The person’s estate is worth less than £5,000
- Owned property as joint tenants or shared money/a bank account – this will automatically pass on to the surviving owner or owners
Who Can Apply For Probate?
Usually a relative or partner, but if there’s a will, there will be an executor or multiple executors named that can apply for probate. If there isn’t a will, then the closest living relative will be able to apply instead.
Valuing of the Estate
To get an understanding of the assets, you’ll need to value the estate. First, it’s recommended to make a list of all possessions and estimate the value of them.
Then you’ll need to contact banks, building societies, insurance companies and so on, in order to get an accurate valuation. This also includes things like stocks and shares, as well as any possible life insurance payouts.
The next step is to value any joint assets that are shared with another person, such as a property bought in two persons’ names. You’ll then need to divide that total value by two, to see the actual value of their share.
Dealing with Inheritance Tax
Inheritance tax will apply to estates that are valued over £325,000. Any gifts that were given within 7 years of the death will also need to be considered when valuing and estimating inheritance tax that is due.
A form will need to be completed to sort the tax, and if the total value is under the £325,000 threshold, then a form confirming this will need to be completed instead. These forms are required for filling in the probate application.
Filing the Probate Application
Once the estate has been valued, you can start the actual probate application, which means filling out a number of forms. These forms can be completed either on paper or online.
To finalise the process the completed list of documents you’ll need to send in include:
- The completed probate application form (not needed if you do this online)
- The death certificate
- A completed inheritance tax form
- The original will
It will cost £215 to apply for probate (if the estate is worth less than £5,000 then it will be free). It is an additional £1.50 for every extra copy of the probate document that you need. Having extra copies to send can speed up the process of settling the will, as you’ll be able to send the documents simultaneously to different organisations that request them.
And Finally, Once the Probate is Granted…
Once you obtain probate, you can now start the process of settling the deceased’s estate, in accordance with the will’s instructions.
That should explain everything you need to know about the probate process, but remember, a professional such as a solicitor can also offer advice.