Probate: What Is It?

What does probate mean?

Probate is the term used to explain the process necessary for dealing with the estate – including property, investments, savings and debts – of someone who has died.

According to the government, “applying for the legal right to deal with someone’s property, money and possessions when they die is called ‘applying for probate’”. But what does this mean in practice?

In this guide, we’ve explained what’s involved in a probate application, as well as answering some commonly asked questions. These include:

There’s no denying that dealing with probate can seem overwhelming, especially as most people have never been through the process before. But an experienced Wills and probate solicitor can help to take some of the pressure off your shoulders.

How does probate work?

You might be wondering how to apply for probate. But before doing anything, you’ll need to locate the Will of the person who has passed away (if there is one).

If you’re not sure where to find a Will, try asking family members or friends. Or you could contact the deceased person’s solicitor, bank or the local probate registry. You can also search online for probate records.

The named executor – who is responsible for handling the estate – will then be able to apply for probate. This can be done online, providing you have the original Will, death certificate (or an interim death certificate from the coroner) and you have already reported the estate’s value.

Valuing the estate involves finding out about the assets and debts of the person who has died and estimating the value of the estate. This value should then be reported to HMRC.

The process of valuing an estate will usually take between six and nine months. But it can take longer for more complicated estates, such as those involving trusts or if there is tax to be paid.

In the majority of cases, the entire probate process can be completed within 12 months. But your solicitor will keep you updated and let you know if they think the process could take longer.

When is probate required?

Probate will usually only be needed if the person who has died owned property or large assets in their sole name. You may not need to apply for probate if the individual who died:

  • Only had savings at the time of their death
  • Owned shares with other people – this will automatically pass to the surviving owners
  • Owned land or property with others as ‘joint tenants’ – the surviving owners will automatically receive their share

If you’re still not sure whether you need to apply for a grant of probate, contact the financial organisations the person who died would have used. This could include their bank, insurance provider and mortgage company.

Each organisation will let you know whether you need probate to gain access to the deceased person’s finances and assets. So you’ll have a better idea of whether you need to go down this route.

Who can arrange probate?

Not everyone connected to the person who died can apply for probate. And who will be able to depends on whether there is a Will or not.

If the person who has died has written a Will and named an executor, this person will be responsible for applying for probate.

But if there is no Will, someone who has been named the next of kin – or a close relative – can apply for what’s known as a grant of representation. This will prove that you have the legal right to handle the estate.

You can apply to become the administrator of the estate if you were the spouse, civil partner or child of the person who died.

Can you track a probate application?

If you’re the person who applied for a grant of probate, you’ll be able to track its progress online. You can do this through the HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) Probate Tracking System. You’ll just need the case number for your probate application and the name of the person who has died.

You’ll also have the option of tracking your probate application through your solicitor. They’ll keep you up to date at every stage, so you’ll have a better understanding of when the process will be completed.

To find out how we could match you with an experienced Wills and probate solicitor, get in touch or start your enquiry online.

Note: First4Lawyers offers this information as guidance, not advice. Before taking any action, you should seek professional assistance tailored to your personal circumstances.


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