Step-by-step guide to probate

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As an executor, your role will involve dealing with every aspect of the deceased person’s estate. This includes: 

  • Valuing the estate
  • Applying for the grant of probate 
  • Administering the estate- gathering the assets, and distributing them to the beneficiaries 

Probate is a heavy burden, and can be a complex process. There are many risks to handling probate yourself, which we explore in The risks of DIY Probate

If you are happy to take the risk, we explain below how probate works and how to do probate yourself. 

Step 1 - Check the Will for an executor

The first step is checking the deceased person’s Will - if they have one. 

If you are named as the executor, then you will be responsible for dealing with the estate. 

If you do not feel capable of doing so, you can ask a professional service like us at Wills.Services to take over for you, or you can simply decline the role by signing a Renunciation. 

Step 2 - Paying for the funeral

The funeral often takes place quickly after someone dies. This means it generally takes place before the grant of probate is received. 

In some cases, the deceased person’s bank may pay out funeral expenses before the grant is obtained. 

It is also worth asking the funeral director if they can wait for payment, until probate is granted. 

Otherwise, you or your family may have to pay for the funeral upfront- and try and recoup the money from the estate later. 

You should check the Will to see if the deceased person left any wishes for their funeral. 

Step 3 - Obtain the grant of probate

You will need to apply for the grant of probate, to obtain permission to execute the Will and administer the estate. 

This means you initially have to register the death, and then assess the size of the estate. 

To register the death, you should visit your local register office within five days of the death. It is free to register a death, but it costs £11 for each copy of the death certificate. 

To assess the size of the estate, you will need to: work out the value of things the person owned, any gifts they made in the 7 years prior to their death, and the value of any trusts where the person had a beneficial interest. 

You should make a list of everything the person owned with a monetary value, such as: their home, other property, money in all bank accounts/ISAs, stocks, shares, household items and furniture, money owed to them, etc. It is important to work out the value of all items, and if required, to obtain a professional valuation. 

The next stage is to complete a probate application form, and the inheritance tax forms. 

Be warned- the executor faces personal liability if anything to do with the estate is calculated wrong and paid incorrectly, including the inheritance tax bill! 

You will also need to swear an executor’s oath at your local Probate Registry, or at a local Solicitor’s office. 

You must be sure to check the following:  if you have accurately assessed the estate (including all their savings and investments), do you have details of all bank accounts (including any stocks, shares and ISA’s), do you need to get any property/items/assets professionally valued? 

Step 4 - Pay the Inheritance Tax (IHT)

If the HMRC accepts your submission, any IHT due must now be paid. 

This is a requirement for the grant of probate. 

You can either arrange direct payment to the HMRC (if there is enough money in the bank account of the deceased person and if the bank allows this) using an IHT 423 form or the HMRC will accept payment in instalments. If paid in instalments, HMRC require a tenth of the total due in advance. 

Step 5 - Gather the assets

This means that you will now have to gather all the assets in the deceased’s estate, and distribute them as per the Will. 

Most institutions will release funds straight away, but you may need to send them a certified copy of the grant of probate first. 

If you receive payment as an executor, this money should be paid into a separate executor’s account. 

Step 6 - Advertise in the Gazette

You can put a deceased estate notice in the Gazette, which is the UK’s official public record. 

You could be liable for any unidentified debts yourself (out of your own pocket), if you do not advertise for any unknown creditors or beneficiaries to come forward. 

As long as you have the death certificate, you do not have to wait for the grant of probate to place the advertisement. 

There are three editions of the Gazette, London, Edinburgh and Belfast. It costs £73.20 plus VAT to advertise in the Gazette, and you can create a PO Box (which is recommended so that your address is not made public). 

You should place the advertisement as soon as possible, as you will have to allow 2 months and 1 day for potential creditors to come forward. 

If the deceased owned property, you should also place a notice in the local newspaper (local to the area where the property is located). You can also submit this through the Gazette. 

Step 7 - Prepare the final accounts

The final accounts will need to be prepared, and the beneficiaries will need to approve these before anything is distributed. 

The estate accounts should record everything that is received, and everything that is paid out. 

You will need to keep the accounts, and any supporting paperwork, for at least 12 years (which is the limitation period for any claims against the estate). 

Step 8 - Distribute the assets

You can now make the payments to each of the beneficiaries and creditors, as long as you have received the funds. 

You need to ensure that all debts and taxes are paid. 

Need help with probate? 

Probate is a complex process, with a great risk for the executor if not executed correctly. 

Contact us at Wills.Services today for professional probate advice, and help with probate.

Enquire about our probate fees

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