Probate legalises the process of passing money, property and possessions (your estate) to named beneficiaries or next of kin when you die.
Even if you are married or in a civil partnership, your spouse or partner cannot immediately manage your estate without securing a grant of probate or letters of administration from the Probate Court.
Probate is required by law if your estate is worth more than £5000, unless
- you jointly own money, property, land or shares — in which case your share will automatically pass to the surviving owners; or
- your estate consists solely of savings or premium bonds.
Applying for probate involves administration, paperwork, court appearances and in most cases, the support of a solicitor.
Depending on your circumstances, probate is typically granted in 3-6 months if you have a legally binding Will in place, or 12-18 months if you do not.
The process is the same whether a Will exists or not, although the application process is different in each case:
Who can apply for a grant of probate?
Only a person named in a Will as an executor can apply for a grant of probate.
You can name up to 4 people to act on your behalf as executors, and it does not matter if an administrator is also a beneficiary in your Will.
However, being executor carries a great deal of responsibility. Applying for a grant of probate involves much work, so it is essential to make a choice carefully.
An executor should be fully aware of their responsibilities if they agree to act on your behalf.
A partner, spouse or family friend may find the administration process complex and daunting, especially at such a difficult time.
Naming more than one executor can be helpful to share the burden. Choosing an accountant or solicitor is an option, but they may charge for the service.
Who can apply to be an administrator?
A person closely or loosely related to you applies to the Probate Court for letters of administration if
- you did not make a Will and consequently, name an executor;
- the Will you made is judged to be invalid because it was not signed or witnessed correctly, or because of another error. (Common with DIY Wills.); or
- you did not name an executor in your Will, or the executor refuses to fulfil their duties.
However, the court prioritises applications for letters of administration in order of priority:
- your surviving spouse or civil partner,
- your surviving children or their children if predeceased,
- your father or mother,
- your full blood brother or sister or their children if predeceased,
- your half-blood brother or sister or their children if predeceased,
- any full blood uncles or aunts or their children if predeceased,
- any half-blood uncles or aunts or their children if predeceased,
- the Crown via the ‘Bona Vacantia Department of the Treasury solicitor, and
- any creditor or claimant under the Bona Vacantia process such as a first cousin.
Note that the court only grants letters of administration to people aged 18-years of age or over.
Duties of an executor and administrator
One a grant of probate or letters of administration are granted, dealing with your estate involves
- registering the death with the local probate registry;
- paying funeral expenses. (Unless a paid-up funeral plan exists.);
- finding and collating all of your financial documentation;
- valuing your estate;
- preparing the relevant IHT return and paying any Inheritance Tax due;
- registering the grant of probate with the relevant institutions, e.g. banks, building societies;
- taking care of your assets, e.g. secure an empty property, making sure the property is insured and adequately maintained;
- transferring the ownership of any property and closing any accounts;
- dealing with any assets left in a trust or overseas;
- organising a deed of variation for beneficiaries who are under 18-years old;
- completing any required income tax return or capital gains return on your behalf;
- settling all outstanding debts or liabilities;
- collecting any property or money owed to you;
- paying any expenses incurred;
- preparing final accounts for the estate;
- setting up trusts which may arise from the Will; and
- distributing the estate by following the Will or according to the laws of intestacy.
How to apply for a grant of probate if a Will exists
An executor can apply for probate online at GOV.UK. It costs £215 for an estate valued at more than £5000.
An online service is an option if
- an original Will is available naming the applicant as executor, and
- the executor has a copy of the death certificate, and
- the executor has already reported the estate’s value.
Licenced probate practitioner
Licensed probate practitioners are qualified, professional probate lawyers, who specialise in the legal aspects surrounding inheritance and the administration of Wills and estates in England and Wales.
Some work in-house as part of a Solicitors team, others work directly with the public.
Appointing a qualified professional can ease the burden of probate, but executors still have an administrative role to play.
Many accredited Will writing specialists provide administrative support to executors. They can recommend a suitable probate practitioner or Solicitors firm; guide executors through the process; carry out many administrative tasks directly on their behalf.
Brighton Wills & Family Trusts provides executors with comprehensive probate form support, and you can read more about the service here.
How to apply for letters of administration if no Will exists
The options are the same whether or not a Will exists, although the form used is different.
However, bear in mind that the administrative process is more detailed if a Will is not in place, and it takes far longer for the court to grant letters of administration.
People close to you may not gain access to money or control a property for up to 18-months. Also, the legal costs in most cases are significantly higher. Loved ones could be left to fund the process directly, and even if not, the value of your estate could be drastically reduced as a result.
A simple way to relieve the pressure of probate
The easiest way to ensure probate is carried out swiftly, smoothly and with less stress for your family is to put your affairs in order by making a legally compliant Will.
Everything you need to know about making a Will is available in our comprehensive guide, and you can download it for FREE here.
About the author
Jane Amos is an experienced member of The Society of Will Writers. Over the past four years, she has helped many families enjoy the confidence their affairs are in order and feel safe in the knowledge their wishes will be carried out explicitly in the event of an untimely death.
Her expertise extends to personalised Will writing, property trusts, lasting powers of attorney and probate.