After someone has died, a surviving relative will need to get probate in order to be able to deal with the deceased’s estate unless the estate has a net value of less than £5,000, or the whole estate consists of property and assets that were jointly owned and there is a surviving spouse or civil partner who can inherit.
If the deceased has left a valid will and in it named an executor, it will be the executor who has the responsibility of obtaining probate. If you are named as an executor, it’s worth knowing that you are not legally obliged to take on the role and you can decline to do so.
If there is no will, or an existing will fails to name an executor, then someone should be named as administrator, usually a close family member. The administrator then has the responsibility of obtaining probate.
Probate gives legal authority to the executor or administrator to deal with the various bodies such as banks, HMRC, utility companies and estate agents if there is a property to dispose of. An executor applies for a Grant of Representation while an administrator applies for Letters of Administration. Both of those legal documents have the same effect of allowing an individual to administer an estate.
To obtain probate the executor or administrator must fill in an application form and return it to the local Probate Registry. Application forms can be downloaded from the gov.uk website.
The form asks for various details, including the net worth of the estate. This is calculated by adding up the value of all assets including cash in the bank, personal belongings such as jewellery, artworks or antiques and property. Any assets that are worth more than £500 should be professionally valued.
You also need to fill in an inheritance tax form, even when you believe there will not be any tax to pay. In most cases, there will be tax due on estates with a value of more than £325,000.
Once you have sent off your application for probate, the Probate Registry office will give you an appointment to attend in person for an interview. The purpose of the interview is to check that all the facts that you have included on the form are correct and you will be required to swear an oath to that effect.
Many people choose to employ a solicitor to obtain probate on their behalf, particularly when an estate has a high net worth or the affairs are complex. This obviously incurs a cost but you can pay this from the assets of the estate.