What is probate?
Naturally, when somebody passes away, they leave all of their belongings behind (known as their estate). These must be distributed fairly amongst friends and family and there needs to be somebody to lead the process.
To be able to manage a loved one’s estate once they’ve passed away, you need a ‘grant of representation’ – this is a document which proves your right to administer the estate. The process of a grant of representation can differ depending on the individual circumstances of the deceased.
If there is a legally binding will in place with an appointed executor, the nominated individual will have to apply for a ‘grant of probate’.
Letters of administration
In both cases, this process is typically referred to as ‘probate’, so we will use this term throughout this guide.
Note: ‘Probate’ is used in England, Wales and Northern Ireland but is known as ‘Confirmation’ in Scotland.
How does a will work after death?
After death, the will becomes a public document rather than a private one. This means that, if being held by a hospital, solicitor or any other establishment, you can write to them and request it to be released.
If the person has passed away with a valid will in place, the only person able to request that the will be released is the executor (the person who deals with the distribution of their assets). Once probated has been granted, anybody can request a copy of the will by paying a small fee to the Probate Registry.
The executor of a will is usually a close friend or family member, but can sometimes be a solicitor or bank.
How to apply for probate – Grant of probate in the UK
Getting probate yourself
One of the main benefits of applying for probate yourself is that it can save a considerable amount of money, yet it doesn’t usually require too much struggle (unless the estate is worth a considerable amount, or the distribution of assets is likely to be complicated).
Once you’ve applied for probate, you can pay a smaller fee for a solicitor to check over the probate forms and ensure that you haven’t made any errors.
It should be noted, however, that when getting probate yourself, you become legally responsible for any debts and taxes owed by the estate (such as an outstanding mortgage or credit card debt) and ensuring that these are paid before any assets are distributed.
You can apply for probate online without having to download and print off any probate application forms as long as:
- You are the executor of the will
- You have the original will to hand
- You have the original death certificate (or interim if it hasn’t arrived yet)
- You have already reported the value of the estate
Once your application has been accepted, you will be asked to send some relevant documents to the Probate Registry. Most of these can be sent by simply taking and uploading a picture, but the will must be sent via post.
Using a probate specialist
The post-death period can be a particularly traumatic time, so it is understandable if you would rather hand the probate process over to a third party probate service.
Unfortunately, the cost of using a probate specialist can easily run into the thousands of pounds, but it might still be worth looking into if you feel incapable of managing it yourself or feel there might be an issue with the will.
When you DON’T need probate
It is worth noting that there are a few common scenarios in which probate is not necessary following the death of a loved one.
- Joint estates – when the deceased’s surviving spouse or civil partner has joint access to the estate (eg. Joint bank account)
- Absence of land, property or shares – when the deceased’s estate does not include any land, property or shares
- Bank limits – each bank has its own policy on how much money it will release without grant of probate, sometimes up to £50,000
Probate fees – How much does applying for probate cost?
Before applying for probate, you must have valued the deceased’s estate. This includes everything from their home and car to any potential life insurance payouts and cash savings.
You will also need to pay an application fee and some, if not all of the Inheritance Tax (IHT) owed on the estate.
In England, Scotland and Wales…
If the estate in question is valued above £5,000, the probate application fee is £215 when made by an individual or £155 when made by a solicitor. Probate for estates valued below £5,000 is not subject to an application fee.
In Northern Ireland…
If the estate-in-question is valued above £10,000, the probate application fee is £250. There is no fee for applications for estates valued below £10,000.
To learn more, visit our probate comparison page so you can compare our probate services to other well-known providers.
Paying Inheritance Tax (IHT)
If the estate is valued at more than £325,000, there will usually be an Inheritance Tax due before probate can be granted.
You can find out more in our complete guide to Inheritance Tax.
How long does probate take?
The presence of a will can often speed up the probate process, but this isn’t always the case.
The minimum time you can expect it to take is between 9 and 12 months, but this waiting period can be extended significantly if complications occur (e.g. if a property needs to be sold).
Even with a will in place, the executor needs time to gather all of the relevant information and apply for grant of probate before they even consider paying any bills, selling property, covering funeral costs and, eventually, distributing any remaining assets.
What happens if a will cannot be found?
Sometimes people can die suddenly, without providing the relevant information on where to find their will or if they’ve even written one.
If you’re unsure where a loved one might have secured their will, start by:
- Looking for a certificate of deposit – if you can’t find the will itself, this will at least confirm that there is one in place and can help you track it down.
- Check with the Principal Registry of the Family Division – part of the High Court, you can find out if the will is stored here by writing to them and asking for a search of the ‘safe custody wills register’.
- Check with the deceased’s care home/hospital – patients of care homes and hospitals sometimes store their last will and testament safely on-site.
- Contact the person’s solicitor, bank or accountant – many people store their last will and testament safely with their bank, solicitor or accountant.
Learn more: What to do when someone dies
Expert will writing with Wills Services
The thought of loved ones having to deal with your death can sometimes be too much to bear, but our team at Wills Services are on hand to ensure that they aren’t left in the dark when it comes to distributing your assets.
Make use of our Probate services today to remove any worry you might have surrounding the distribution of your assets after death.