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Obtaining probate

Obtaining probate

Contents

What is Probate?

'Probate' is the term used in England, Wales and Northern Ireland when talking about applying for the right to deal with a deceased person's affairs (called 'administering the estate').

Different terms associated with a deceased person's estate

If the person who has died leaves a will

When a person dies leaving a will, they are said to have died 'testate'. In this case, one or more 'executors' may be named in the will to deal with the person's affairs after their death.

The executor applies for a 'grant of probate' of the will from a section of the court known in England & Wales as the Probate Registry or in Northern Ireland the Probate Office of the Chancery Court.

The grant (of probate) is a legal document which confirms that the executors have the authority to deal with the deceased person's assets (property, money and possessions). The executors can use it to show they have the right to access funds, sort out finances, and collect and share out the deceased person's assets as set out in the will.

If the person who has died didn't leave a will

If there is no will, the deceased is said to have died 'intestate'

A close relative of the deceased can apply to the Probate Registry/Office to deal with the estate. In this case they commonly apply for a 'grant of letters of administration'.

If the grant is given, they are known as 'administrators' of the estate. Like the grant of probate, the grant of letters of administration is a legal document which confirms the administrator's authority to deal with the deceased person's assets.

In some cases, for example, where the person who benefits is a child, the law states that more than one person must act as the administrator.

Personal representative (PR)

This is a general term which means executor or administrator.

Grant of representation

This is a general term which includes grants of probate and grants of letters of administration.

When a grant is needed

A grant is almost always needed when the person who dies leaves one or more of the following:

  • £5,000 or more (although the figure can vary significantly depending upon which institution is holding the funds. In practice in some cases, a grant can be dispensed with in cases where the estate is worth up to £30,000, but in other cases lower limits will apply, depending upon which institution is holding the assets)
  • Stocks or shares
  • Certain insurance policies
  • Property or land held in their own name or as 'tenants in common'.

In most cases above, the bank or relevant institution will need to see the grant before transferring control of the assets. However, if the estate is small, some organisations, such as insurance companies and building societies, may release the money to you at their discretion.

When a grant may not be needed

A grant may not be needed where:

  • The person who died left a total estate not exceeding £5,000 (although the figure can vary significantly depending upon which institution is holding the funds. In practice in some cases, a grant can be dispensed with in cases where the estate is worth up to £30,000, but in other cases lower limits will apply, depending upon which institution is holding the assets)
  • The deceased owned everything jointly with someone else and everything passes automatically to the surviving joint owner

To establish whether the assets can be obtained without a grant, the PR would need to write to each institution informing them of the death and enclosing a photocopy of the death certificate (and will if there is one).

Grant and Inheritance Tax

The relevant court will not issue a grant to a PR until some or all of any Inheritance Tax that is due on the estate has been paid.

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