Probate (known as confirmation in Scotland) is the legal process of distributing the estate of a deceased person. First you will need to find out whether the person made a valid will. A will explains what should happen to the deceased person’s estate – their money, property and possessions. It may be held by a bank, solicitor, will safe facility, the Principal Probate Registry, a trusted friend or relative.
If there is no will, the person is said to have died intestate and there are different rules – for example, their spouse or civil partner will automatically inherit all their personal possessions and at least the first £250,000 of their estate. The rules around how anything over £250,000 is divided up are complex, and you should take advice if you’re dealing with the estate.
If there is a will, the deceased will usually have appointed executors (in Scotland, these are called executors nominate) to deal with the estate. If no executors were appointed, or there is no will, the court will appoint an administrator (or executor dative in Scotland). Executors and administrators are known as personal representatives. If you are named as an executor in the will, or you think you are entitled to deal with the estate (if the person died intestate), you will need to apply to the local Probate Registry (the Probate Office in Northern Ireland or the local Sheriff Court in Scotland) for a grant of representation (or confirmation in Scotland). You can do this in person or through a solicitor.
Sometimes there is no need to apply for a grant of representation, for example, if the value of the estate is very small (usually less than £5,000 in England and Wales or less than £10,000 in Northern Ireland). Confirmation may not be required for estates valued at less than £36,000 in Scotland. In this case you need to write to the bank, building society, or the organisation that is holding the money. They may insist on seeing documentation such as a death certificate and evidence of your relationship. In Scotland, you need the authority of the Sheriff Court to do this. You can also consult a solicitor, but they will charge for any advice given or work done on behalf of the executor.