Before you can deal with the finances of someone who has died, you may need to apply for a grant of probate. But what is a grant of probate?
Here you’ll find everything you’ll need to understand about what probate is and how to go about applying for it when it’s necessary.
What is a grant of probate?
Probate is the legal right to administer the estate of a person who has died. A grant of probate is a legal document that – in the event the person left a will – confirms that an executor named in the will has that right.
A person’s “estate” includes their money, property, possessions, any shares they own, and money they owe or are owed. This means that before probate is granted, you cannot deal with the deceased person’s assets. For example, you can’t try and sell any property they own.
After probate has been granted, you can access the deceased’s bank accounts, distribute their assets to their heirs (following the will if there is one or the law if not), and otherwise tidy up their affairs.
When do you need to apply for a grant of probate?
Two things need to be true before you can apply for a grant of probate:
1. The person who died left a will
2. You are a named executor within it
If the person who died did not leave a will, you may instead need to apply for a similar legal document called a “grant of letters of administration”. Functionally, this is much the same as a grant of probate. It can be applied for by the deceased’s closest living relative.
How do you apply for probate?
1) Register the person’s death
Before you can apply for probate, you need to register that the person has died. You have five days to do this in every part of the UK except Scotland. In Scotland, you have eight days.
It can be worth purchasing extra copies of the person’s death certificate at this stage. There is a small fee for this service, but you will need them later on in the process.
After the death has been successfully registered, you should be sent an identification code that you can use to simultaneously notify all the relevant UK government departments via the “Tell Us Once” service.
2) Identify the deceased’s assets and value their estate
Identifying the scope of a deceased person’s estate and valuing it can be relatively simple. On the other hand, some estates are complex blocks of:
- Bank accounts – search records to determine what accounts they held and with who.
- Property – talk to lenders like mortgage providers and value any property. You may need a formal valuation from a surveyor or estate agent.
- Shares and investments – contact stockbrokers, fund managers, or pension providers.
- Possessions – value things like jewellery, art collections, or vehicles.
- Liabilities – research debts, credit cards, loans, or outstanding utility bills. You might need to reach out to HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) for outstanding tax details.
3) File and pay inheritance tax
Even if no inheritance tax ends up being due, you still need to file an Inheritance Tax return. This needs to be done before you apply for your grant of probate.
There is a range of Inheritance Tax forms applicable to different estates. They usually have identification codes that begin with the letters “IHT”. The government has an online checker you can use to determine which forms are relevant to you.
You will usually need to pay any Inheritance Tax before probate will be granted. HMRC may accept payment in instalments in some circumstances and sometimes payment can be made from the deceased’s bank account.
4) File for probate
After you’ve registered the death, valued the estate, and filed any necessary Inheritance Tax forms, you’re ready to file for probate.
- In most of the UK – you need to file a PA1P probate application form.
- In Scotland – you need to file the C1 and C5 confirmation forms.
It’s a good idea to order multiple copies of the grant of probate as you will need several throughout the process.
5) Administer the estate
Once you have received legal authority in the form of your grant, you can start to liquidate the assets of the deceased’s estate, settle their liabilities, and pay any final probate fees (these vary depending on the part of the UK you’re in).
After you have made all payments required and accepted all payments owed, the beneficiaries of the will (or the heirs recognised by law) can then receive their share of the balance.
How long does a grant of probate take?
After successful application, your grant of probate will usually arrive within eight weeks. This can be longer if you need copies to use outside of the UK or if you are asked to provide additional information.
Once you have the document, a grant of probate means you have the legal right to administer the estate of a person who has died following what their will tells you their wishes were.
Not sure how to apply for a grant of probate?
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“I am very grateful for you and your staff for carrying out this transaction for me and my co-executor. It’s another job very well done”
(Mrs OB – Probate Sale)