The probate process in England and Wales is the administrative pathway that you need to follow when someone dies. It allows the deceased person’s next of kin to access bank accounts, deal with utility companies and perform other essential tasks.
If the deceased has left a will naming an executor it is the executor who is responsible for undertaking the probate process, although he or she may choose to appoint a solicitor to do this. If the deceased has died intestate, that is, without making a will, or there is some reason the named executor cannot carry out the probate process, then an administrator, usually a close family member, will be appointed and they will have largely the same duties as an executor.
The first thing an executor or administrator needs to do is to register the death. This is done at the nearest Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages office and they will issue a death certificate. You can buy extra copies of the certificate for a small charge and this is a good idea as there is likely to be a number of organisations that will need to see the certificate.
Once you have the death certificate, you can then apply for probate to the Probate Registry. This entails filling in a probate application form to request Grant of Representation, which gives the executor legal authority to deal with the financial affairs of the deceased. Once you have filled the form in, you will be asked to attend the local Probate Registry office to swear that the information you have submitted is true to the best of your knowledge.
If you are using a solicitor, it is also possible to sign a witnessed document of affirmation which can be forwarded to the Probate Registry. After the oath has been made, the Probate Registry will issue the Grant of Representation and you will be able to start the process of sorting out the deceased’s affairs.
If there is no will, then someone will have to take on the role of administrator. The law sets out in order of priority who should take on the role of administrator according to their relationship to the deceased:
the spouse or civil partner
one of the children
one of the grandchildren
one of the parents
one of the brothers or sisters
one of the nephews or nieces
Once you take on the role of administrator, you will need to apply to the Probate Registry for Letters of Administration in much the same way that executors apply for a Grant of Representation. You will then have legal authority to deal with the affairs of the deceased.