When someone dies, you’ll need to sort out their finances before any inheritance money can be paid. Usually, this means you’ll need to apply for probate. In this article, we’ll look at what probate is, how it works and how you can apply.
What does probate mean?
Probate is the process of sorting out the estate (property, money and belongings) of someone who has died. It’s also the name for a type of legal document that gives someone else authority to share out the estate.
When is probate required?
Probate is usually needed, but not always. If the person who died didn’t leave any property in their estate then probate or letters of administration might not be needed. It’s also the case if they didn’t leave much money behind, or if there’s a joint bank account.
Who’s responsible for dealing with probate?
The person responsible for dealing with probate is called an ‘executor’ or an ‘administrator.’ The two roles are slightly different, although they’re responsible for the same things.
- An executor is a person who’s named in the will as being responsible for the estate. This means that the person who has died has chosen them to take on this role.
- An administrator is a person who has been given responsibility for dealing with the estate after the person has died. This could be because the person who died didn’t choose an executor or because the executor doesn’t want to do it.
What’s a personal representative?
A personal representative is another name for either an executor or an administrator. They’re the person in charge of dealing with the estate of the person who’s died.
Getting started with probate
The first step in the probate process is to find out who the executor is. To do this, you’ll need to find out if there’s a will.
Sorting out probate if there’s a will
If there’s a will, then someone will usually be named in it as an executor. There can be up to a total of four executors named in a will.
The executor or executors might have to apply to court for a document called a ‘grant of probate.’ The grant of probate means the executor can deal with the estate of the person who’s died.
What if an executor doesn’t want to deal with probate?
If an executor doesn’t want to sort out the probate, someone else who’s been named in the will as a beneficiary can do it if there aren’t any other executors. The beneficiary can apply to the court for a document called a ‘grant of letters of administration (with will annexed).’ They are then an administrator. The administrator can deal with the estate.
Sorting out probate if there’s no will
If the person who died didn’t leave a will, a relative can apply to the court for a ‘grant of letters of administration.’ They are then an administrator. The administrator can deal with the estate.
Learn more about what happens when someone dies without a will.
What if there’s a will but it isn’t valid?
You’ll need to apply to the court for a document called a grant of letters of administration if there’s a will but it isn’t valid.
What does an executor or administrator do?
The executor or administrator deals with the estate of the person who’s died. This can take a lot of sorting out. It involves practical things like going through their paperwork, paying off any debts and fees, paying inheritance tax and letting banks and building societies know the person has died.
It’s also important to let the tax authorities know about the death as soon as possible. The Department of Work and Pensions (the DWP) might also need to be told if the person received benefits.
Learn more about who to contact when someone dies.
How do you apply for probate or letters of administration?
You can apply for probate online on the Gov.UK website here.
Applying through the post
You can apply for probate or letters of administration through the post.
You can find more guidance about applying through the post on the Gov.UK website here. If you need help with the forms, you can call His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC)’s Probate and Inheritance Tax helpline on 0300 123 1072 or the Welsh language helpline on 0845 302 1489. The lines are open Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm.
You’ll have to send your completed forms and some other documents to the probate registry. You can find a directory of probate registries on the Gov.UK website here.
How much does probate cost?
Yes. You’ll have to pay a fee of £273 unless the value of the estate is less than £5,000. If you’re on a low income or can’t afford to pay the fee, you can apply for help. You can find out more about this on the Gov.UK website here.
How long does it take to get probate or letters of administration?
It depends. If the estate is straightforward to sort out, it could be somewhere between a few weeks and a few months. It might take a lot longer if it’s a complicated case.
What about inheritance tax?
The personal representative has to tell HMRC about the death. One of the reasons for this is so they can check whether any inheritance tax has to be paid on the estate of the person who’s died. If there is, some of it will have to be paid before probate or letters of administration has been granted. The rest will be sorted out after this.
Learn more about inheritance tax.
What if the person who died has left debts?
If you’re the personal representative, you’ll need to place a notice in The Gazette. This is a public record of legal notices. You can find more details about how to do this on their website here. The notice lets any creditors know about the death so they can claim against the estate, which means they’ll get back the money they’re owed.
What if there’s not enough money in the estate to pay off a debt?
If there’s not enough money in the estate to pay off a debt, the creditor can’t ask anyone else to pay it. It’s different if it’s a joint debt because the creditor can legally ask the surviving person to pay it.
What happens to jointly-owned property?
There’s no need for probate or letters of administration if a couple jointly own a home as ‘beneficial joint tenants’ when one of them dies. It’s different if there are other assets that aren’t jointly owned or if they are ‘tenants in common’ at the time one person dies. Probate or letters of administration will be needed if either of those things happen.
What if there’s a mortgage?
If there’s a mortgage on the jointly owned property, the mortgage company will want one of two things to happen:
- They’ll want the mortgage to be paid off straightaway, or
- They’ll ask the person who inherits the property to take over the mortgage.
It’s worth checking if the person who died had a life insurance policy that will pay off the mortgage. If they did, get in touch with the company and ask them for a final statement.
If the property is sold, the mortgage will be paid off from the sale.
What happens after probate or letters of administration has been granted?
First, you’ll get a letter telling you how much inheritance tax is left to pay. Probate or letters of administration will be sent to you in the post after that. You can begin sorting out the estate of the person who died once you receive the document you applied for.
What if the person who died lived in Scotland?
The process of applying for probate is different to the rest of the UK if the person who died lived in Scotland. The official name for the process is ‘confirmation’ and you can find detailed advice about it on the Citizens Advice Scotland website here.
Do you need a specialist to help you with probate?
You can do it yourself but if the estate is complicated or you’d like help for any other reason, you can get in touch with a solicitor.
Below are the details of where you can find a solicitor who specialises in dealing with probate, depending on where the person who died lived: