It is a morbid topic, but one worth understanding should you ever find yourself in a position of responsibility following someone’s death. Probate is the process of dealing with a person’s property and possessions (‘estate’), which generally involves clearing any debts, paying any tax due and distributing assets in accordance with their will.
We have put together a guide to understanding Probate in the UK because we recognise that, in addition to the grief of losing someone, the burden of administration and legal requirements can be especially challenging.
If a will has been left, the executor will apply for a grant of probate. If there isn’t a will, it is the administrator’s responsibility to manage the estate. In which case, the next of kin can apply for a grant of letters of administration.
Many estates do not need to go through the process of probate. If the estate is worth less than £10,000 or in situations where property is jointly owned and the money passes to a spouse or civil partner, probate will not typically be required. If you are unsure, seek advice from HM Revenue & Customs. Financial institutions have their individual closure requirements, with different processes as to whether or not they require sight of a grant of probate.
You will need to submit the relevant applications should you choose to administer the will yourself. You can do this online here or by post. There is an application fee of £215. We would, however, recommend appointing a professional to act on your behalf if you are dealing with a more complex estate. Professional assistance can provide third party impartiality, expert knowledge, advice regarding creditors and claimants and a knowledgeable view regarding Inheritance Tax and whether the tax liability can be reduced.
You would normally receive the grant of probate (or letters of administration) within 4 weeks of submitting the documents, but the COVID-pandemic has delayed the process.
The distribution of assets to beneficiaries follows the successful application for a grant of probate. This involves notifying banks, building societies and relevant government departments of the person’s death [this happens before applying for the grant], settling up accounts, calculating assets and liabilities and paying any IHT that is owed [the circumstances of the case will decide what inheritance tax is payable prior to obtaining the grant and what can be paid afterwards. Generally, 10% of the IHT is payable of property and tax on all other assets payable in full prior to applying for the grant. The Tell Us Once service allows you to report a death to most government organisations at one time.
Our Probate Literature is a useful point of reference. It details a fuller list of tasks that executors or legal advisors may need to undertake when administering an estate.
A will may appoint more than one person to manage the estate in order to distribute the workload. In which case, the joint executors should work collaboratively to ensure probate is managed effectively.
If, for whatever reason, you do not wish to be an executor, you can sign a Renunciation to resign yourself from the position.
Alternatively, you can appoint legal advisors, such as ourselves, to administer the will on your behalf. Our experts at A M Davies are very happy to assist, undertaking the correspondence and form filling and providing the executors with appropriate advice.