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Do I Need a Probate?

This is one of the first questions people ask when someone dies.

Often, probate isn't needed particularly if a person only has joint bank accounts, or their house is owned jointly with their spouse or partner.

If they own bank accounts in their sole name, then it will depend on how much money is in the bank and that banks own internal thresholds for releasing funds. It will always be easier if there is a Will which makes it obvious who the executor is and who the beneficiaries are. If there is a property in the persons sole name, or there are significant funds, which were some banks means over £50,000 but for others means over £10,000, then probate will probably be needed.

So what is probate?

Probate, or “Grant of Probate”, is a court order confirming who is entitled to administer an estate. It is used as shorthand for other types of Grants of Representation (for example, it is called a Grant of Letters of Administration when there isn’t a Will).

In short, it confirms who can close accounts, who is liable for any debts of the estate and it confirms that inheritance tax has either been paid or an account has been made to HMRC or the probate registry (depending on the value of the estate) confirming that no inheritance tax was payable when the person died.

When there is a lot of money in an account or a property in a sole name, it gives the bank or anyone buying the house, piece of mind that they are handing money over to a person who has “sworn” to the probate registry that they will administer the estate in accordance with law.

How long does probate take?

At the moment, once an application has been submitted to the probate registry, their estimated timescale is 16 weeks! Sadly, the days of a 10 day turnaround are long gone and don’t look like returning any time soon.

It will be longer if there are any additional complexities:  for example, a foreign will, inheritance tax payable or a full account to HMRC needed (because there is an additional step that needs to be taken that can take at least four weeks before the application can be made), any issues with how the will has been prepared, amongst others.

How much does probate cost?

The short answer is that the probate registry charges £300 to issue the grant of probate and £1.50 for each sealed copy of it. The application is free if the value of the estate is less than £5000.

If you want the assistance from a solicitor, the cost will depend on the complexity of the application which itself would depend on things like whether there is a will or not, the assets in the estate, the value of the estate and whether inheritance tax is payable.

I’m a beneficiary, when will I get my inheritance?

Once probate is granted, the executors of the estate (or “administrators” if there is no Will) can collect in the assets. They can exchange contracts and complete the sale of a property and then they can pay out the legacies and pay the main beneficiaries of the estate.

Because executors and administrators can be personally liable if a successful claim is made against in the estate, they are usually advised to wait at least six months after the date of the grant of probate before making any payments. If there is likely to be a claim, they might wait a further four months in case a claim has been issued but not yet served on them.

An executor’s job is not an easy one and can be fraught with difficulties. Taking legal advice is sensible and is deductible from the estate as an administration expense.

If you are an executor or a family member of someone who has died without a Will, we can offer different levels of support to you depending on your circumstances.

To take professional advice from one of our specialist lawyers, email or phone 01295 270999 (Banbury Office), 01869 252161 (Bicester Office), or 01788 579579 (Rugby Office).