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Probate is the word usually used to describe the process for administering the estate of a deceased person.
The probate process deals with the legal and financial aspects of the deceased in order to resolve all claims and distribute the deceased person’s estate in accordance with their final wishes.
The estate includes assets, such as property, investments, savings, pensions and other possessions minus any debts such as outstanding loans. Any monies due to the deceased should also be collected. Although there are some exceptions, it is usually against the law to take actions specified in the person’s Will, until probate has been granted.
The probate process can be handled by an authorised probate professional or alternatively by a relative or friend of the deceased acting as an executor or administrator. If the deceased’s estate is worth less than £5,000 or if the deceased owned everything jointly with their spouse or civil partner, probate is not usually needed. However, some financial organisations may require probate even if only a small amount of money is involved.
We would recommend seeking out someone skilled in handling the probate process for all but the most straightforward cases.
This is especially important in situations such as the following:
Most probate cases follow the same steps:
The time it takes for the probate to be completed can vary substantially and depends on a number of factors. A simple probate case can usually be resolved in around three months whilst more complex cases can take six to twelve months or even longer. This depends somewhat on the financial affairs of the deceased and ensuring that all outstanding issues with HMRC are closed.
It is important to note that arguments between family members, beneficiaries or personal representatives can also cause delays. Any disagreements must be sorted out before the affairs of the person who died can be settled. Probate is the term used for this process in England and Wales. In Northern Ireland the process is known as ‘grant of probate’ and in Scotland as ‘confirmation’.
IHT forms need to be completed and the deceased’s estate must be valued before probate can be applied for. If IHT is due, you normally have to pay at least some of it before you’re given probate. An official copy of the death certificate, the original Will and any fees due must also be submitted. The person applying for probate will also need to swear an oath confirming that the information they have given is true and promising to administer the estate properly.
In order to apply for probate, a probate application form must be completed. An application for probate can be made online at www.apply-for-probate.service.gov.uk or by post.
Only certain people can apply for probate to deal with the estate of someone who died. It depends on whether the person who died left a Will. There is also an application fee in England and Wales of £215 (£155 for probate professional practitioners) if the value of the estate is £5,000 or over. There are slightly different fees in Northern Ireland and Scotland. Extra copies of the probate can be obtained for an additional £1.50 each. It can be helpful to order extra copies of the probate document so you can send it to different organisations at the same time. If you apply online you will need to pay by debit or credit card.
If you apply by post you can:
HMRC has confirmed that the online service can be used if you are the executor or administrator and you:
If you apply online you’ll be told which documents to send and where to send them.
If you apply by post you’ll need to send these documents to your local probate registry along with your application form:
The registry will not return the original Will as it becomes part of public record. If you make a copy of it for your records, do not remove any staples or bindings from the original.
You’ll usually receive the grant of probate and any copies you’ve ordered within 20 working days of your documents being received. However, because of coronavirus, probate applications are currently taking significantly longer than usual.
There is a separate process for solicitors and other legal professionals making probate applications online known as MyHMCTS. HMCTS receive approximately 280,000 applications for grants of probate per annum.
Once you have been granted probate, you should put a statutory advertisement in The Gazette and in a newspaper that’s local to the deceased. Placing a deceased estates notice ensures that sufficient effort has been made to locate creditors before distributing the estate to beneficiaries. This protects the executor or trustee from being liable for any unidentified creditors.