Applying for Probate

Dealing with the estate and will of someone you care for after they have passed away is never a pleasant experience, but knowing exactly how the process works can help you feel more comfortable and at-ease.

Guides

How does a will work after death? 

Handling the estate of someone who has died can be complex and it is recommended that you hire the services of a professional solicitor to ensure that it is done as accurately and as efficiently as possible. 

The estate includes almost everything they own at the time of their death, such as money, insurance pay-outs, shares, properties, businesses, and personal possessions. If the deceased owes money in the form of a credit card, mortgage, or loan, then the relevant amount is taken from the estate. 

If the deceased person had written a legally valid will, the executor (named in the will) can apply for probate and then begin distributing the estate in line with the wishes as stated within the will. 

Probate is a legal process whereby a will is ‘proven’ in a court of law, as it must be granted Get before the estate is distributed in most cases (aside from a few exceptions). 

In short, here is the five-stage process of dealing with someone’s finances after death: 

  1. Applying for probate
  2. Valuing the estate
  3. Paying inheritance tax
  4. Clearing other debts left behind
  5. Distributing the estate

How to apply for the grant of probate in the UK

You are able to apply for probate yourself, but it can be a complex and tedious process, which many could do without at such an already-difficult time, so many people choose to hire a specialist professional to take over the proceedings on their behalf. 

When is probate NOT required? It is important to check whether you need probate before applying for it, as it is usually not required if the person who died had jointly owned land, property, shares or money, as these will automatically be inherited by the surviving owners. 

Probate is also not necessary if the estate is worth less than £5,000 or if the estate is insolvent (when debts, taxes and expenses are greater than its value). 

Apart from the few exceptions, probate is required before the executor begins handling the estate, but it is always worth getting advice from a professional in the field if you are unsure.

How long does probate take? 

The grant of probate can be authorised within three to four weeks, but the entire process can take anything between six and twelve months to complete. There is no set timescale and it can differ quite considerably between each case, depending on the complexity of the circumstances surrounding the will and estate. 

What are letters of administration?

If there is no valid will to reference and therefore no named executors, you must apply to be an ‘administrator’ before the estate can be shared out. 

You will receive letters of administration to prove your legal right to deal with the estate, and you will only become responsible for managing the estate once you have been legally appointed.

What does the executor (or administrator) of a will do? 

The responsibilities of the executor or administrator of a will include: 

  • Registering the death and gathering copies of the will
  • Providing a copy of the death certificate to relevant organisations
  • Calculating the estate’s value
  • Setting up a bank account for the estate
  • Finding out how much money was owed to and by the person who died
  • Noting a list of the properties, money, possessions and debts that the estate consists of
  • Handling inheritance tax 
  • Completing and providing relevant documents to HM Revenue and Customs and the probate registry
  • Gathering the assets within bank accounts, insurance policies, pension pots, and building societies
  • Paying off debts, expenses and legal fees
  • Sharing out the estate and carrying out the wishes of the deceased

What happens if a will cannot be found? 

If you fear the deceased might have made a will but it cannot be found, you should begin by: 

  • Contacting their solicitor, bank or accountant
  • Contacting their care home or hospital 
  • Looking for a certificate of deposit (CD) from the Probate Service
  • Getting in touch with the Principal Registry of the Family Division 

If you have tried all of the above and there is still no valid will to refer to, the estate will then be distributed in accordance with the rules of intestacy

Intestacy rules are a strict set of automatic rules that determine how an estate should be inherited if there is no will. If these rules apply, the wishes of the deceased are not taken into account, which is why not having a will often leads to family disputes.

The following people are entitled to inheritance under intestacy rules, in order: 

  • Spouses and civil partners
  • Children
  • Parents
  • Siblings and nieces or nephews
  • Grandparents
  • Aunts and uncles

If none of the above are around to receive the inheritance, then the entire estate will be handed over to the Crown. The only way to eradicate the risk of your estate going to a distant relative or the Crown is by writing an accurate, up-to-date will with the help of a professional will writing service. 

Probate advice at Unite Wills

Get in touch with us for more information or some tailored advice on applying for probate by completing our short contact form and we’ll be in touch at a time that suits you. Whether you’re the executor of a will or looking to plan for your own future, our friendly team of advisors are well-equipped to provide you with the services you require.