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Understanding Probate?

Probate, or ‘granting probate’, is the process of proving that a will is legal and valid. This is important: this proof is necessary before the estate of a person who has died can be handled or distributed. In short, bank accounts may be inaccessible, and property may not be sold until probate has been granted.

What is a grant of probate?

A grant of probate gives the executors of a will the right to administer the estate of and access the finances of a person who has died. If a person died without leaving a will, the executor will need a grant of letters of administration. (Executors are simply people you’ve named in your will as being responsible for carrying out your wishes, when you die.)

How do you apply for probate?

It’s not complicated, but there are solicitors and other legal professionals who can support you and help you to apply for probate. If you or a member of your family has been named as an executor, then you might prefer to do this yourself. Simply fill in the necessary forms (PA1 for England, Wales and Northern Ireland; C1 in Scotland) – and send it to your local Probate Registry office.

When is probate not needed?

There are a couple of situations when executors wouldn’t need to apply for probate. Generally, this happens when an estate only has a small number of personal possessions in it (cars and jewellery, usually); property or bank accounts that are jointly owned; debts that are larger than assets; or life insurance policies and pension benefits. If you leave a ‘small estate’ that’s worth less than £5,000 then there’s no need to go through probate at all. Effects and debts can be dealt with far more informally.

How much does it cost to go through probate?

If the estate has a value of less than £5,000, then it’s known as a ‘small estate’ and there’s no probate fee to pay. If the estate is worth more than £5,000, then the fee is £215 fee (there’s a £1.50 charge for every extra copy of the documents). It’s not a lot of money, but executors can usually reclaim this amount from the estate.

Attending an interview with the Probate Registry

As the paperwork starts being processed, the Probate Registry will contact the executor and arrange a short meeting. At that meeting, the executor is expected to take along all the documents related to the estate – to check through the information on the probate paperwork, and then swear an oath that everything is correct. Many families choose to visit a solicitor’s office to recite the oath instead of going all the way to the Probate Registry. There’s a small fee for this.

What happens after a grant of probate has been issued?

The executor will receive documents to confirm that probate has been granted – this usually happens about 10 to 14 days after the interview.

There’ll be information in that paperwork to confirm what the gross worth and the net worth of the estate is, and how much inheritance tax is due. In all likelihood, tax will have to be paid before probate is granted. .As soon as those documents have been issued, the estate can be administered – property can be sold, for example. 

If probate can’t be granted for some reason – perhaps because there’s a dispute about the will, or the ownership of some assets isn’t clear enough – then the Probate Registry will provide an explanation so that the executor can take appropriate action.