What is a grant of probate?

A grant of probate is a court order that acknowledges an individual’s will as valid when they die. It is a legal document that provides executors with the official authority to distribute the deceased person’s estate according to their expressed wishes in their will.

When is a grant of probate required?

In order for the executor named in the will to handle the estate – this includes transferring or selling the deceased person’s property or possessions and distributing the assets – they usually must apply for a grant of probate.

Obtaining a grant of probate means confirming the will is valid, if there is one, and establishing who has the legal right to administer the estate.

If the estate is worth less than £5,000 or the deceased person owned property and assets jointly, then probate is usually not needed. For all estates worth more than £5,000, probate is required to enable the estate to be distributed.

What’s the difference between a grant of probate and letters of administration?

Both a grant of probate and letters of administration are legal documents that provide the necessary authority to a named individual to handle the estate of the deceased person. Where they differ is when they are required – a grant of probate is needed when there is a will, and letters of administration are required when there is no will.

A grant of probate is issued to the executors named in the will whereas letters of administration are given to the next of kin under the rules of intestacy when the deceased person died without a will.

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How do I apply for a grant of probate?

Collecting information

Before you apply for a grant of probate, you need to make sure you gather all the required information, including the value of the estate and obtaining the death certificate after registering the death. Our probate checklist will help you to collate all the necessary documents.

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, you need to register the death within five days, and within eight days in Scotland. Once registered, you will be sent the death certificate and it’s a good idea to order certified copies as the certificate will be needed to apply for probate and to access financial data about the deceased person’s estate.

Preparing the probate application

You need to make sure you establish the information about the estate, before completing the application for probate. There is a great deal of information to find, including what savings, money, shares and debts the deceased person had. To do this, you need to contact the relevant institutions – you will, therefore, need to raise enquiries with the family, go through the deceased documentation, write to banks and financial institutions, policy holders etc, to obtain the details.

When you contact the organisations for a final statement, you need to send them a copy of the death certificate. Assets are usually frozen at this stage, until a grant of probate is issued.

Valuing the estate

Once you have the necessary information about the deceased person’s assets and liabilities, you need to value any property too, to establish the overall value of the estate.

Paying inheritance tax

If the estate is worth more than the current inheritance tax threshold then the estate is liable for inheritance tax. In addition to the estate value, HMRC require details of any cash gifts made by the deceased person within seven years prior to their death – this can increase the worth of the estate and therefore the amount of inheritance tax owed, so make sure this is processed accurately.

There are also rules and allowances for inheritance tax which you should be aware of, including the option to transfer any unused inheritance tax allowance if the deceased person’s spouse died before them, to increase the threshold.

If there is inheritance tax to pay it needs to be paid before the grant of probate or letters of administration are issued unless deferred payment or a payment plan is agreed with HMRC. Some Executors or Administrators take out a probate loan to cover the cost, the loan is repaid from the proceeds of the estate.

Paying probate fees

There is no fee for probate if the estate is worth less than £5,000 in England and Wales and the limit is £10,000 in Northern Ireland.

If the estates are worth more than the stated threshold, there is a fee for probate – in England and Wales, this is £273, and £261 in Northern Ireland. Please note this is the cost at time writing March 2023). Details of the current probate costs are always published on the probate section of Gov.UK

You can pay £1.50 for each additional copy of a grant of probate. Normally, it’s a good idea to get five copies for administrating the estate. However, as every estate is unique, the tasks involved in estate administration may vary according to the specific assets and their value – and this includes the number of copies of a grant of probate you’ll need for the process.

In terms of the costs of probate as a whole, this depends on whether you complete the process yourself or use the services of a probate specialist. Many specialists offer fixed fee probate to complete this process and you can request a probate quote online. There are also numerous other potential costs of probate such as estate agent fees, probate insurance costs and property valuation fees.

Making the application

When you have established the value of the estate and how much, if any, inheritance tax is owed, you need to complete the relevant inheritance tax form and a probate application form, or apply online, to obtain a grant of probate if there’s a will or letters of administration if there’s no will.

Who can apply for a grant of probate?

The executor or executors named in the will can apply for a grant of probate. If there is no will, the closest living relatives of the deceased person can apply for letters of administration.

What forms are required to apply for a grant of probate?

You need to complete a PA1P form to apply for a grant of probate. If there is no will, you need to fill in a PA1A form to apply for letters of administration.

Supporting documentation includes the original will, if there is one, a copy of the death certificate, and a completed inheritance tax form, if needed.

The application for probate can be made by post or online.

How long does a grant of probate take?

It depends on the size and complexity of the estate, but on average it takes around 16 weeks to receive a grant of probate or letters of administration.

Please note at the time of writing, March 23, there are long delays on probate applications and they are taking much longer to process.

Once received, you can start the estate administration. When distributing the estate, this will pass to the beneficiaries named in their will, or according to the rules of intestacy if there isn’t a will.

To complete the probate process, from the date of the death through to the estate being distributed, it takes a year on average. For more straightforward estates, probate takes approximately six months. However, as every estate is unique, the tasks involved in estate administration may vary according to the specific assets and their value – which is why the process varies in completion time.

To summarise

What is a grant of probate? A grant of probate is the legal authority needed to distribute a deceased person’s estate and is issued when there is a will. It recognises the legal validity of the will and ensures the deceased person’s wishes are fully respected during the administration of the estate.

Without a will, the next of kin applies for letters of administration, which is a similar legal document that enables the named individual to distribute the estate according to the rules of intestacy.

Most estates worth more than £5,000 require probate and the process usually takes around six months or longer depending on the size and complexity of the estate.

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