In a nutshell, probate is the legal process in England and Wales that must take place after someone has died. Once you have been granted probate, you will have the legal authority to deal with bodies like banks, estate agents and HMRC in dealing with the affairs of the estate.
The only exceptions to the necessity for probate is when someone dies and the value of their estate is less than £5,000, or when everything was held in joint names and passes to the surviving spouse or civil partner.
The value of an estate is calculated by adding up the total worth of the assets such as bank accounts, personal property like jewellery and vehicles and anything else of value. From this total the amount of any debts and the costs of the funeral can then be subtracted to give the net value of the estate. When the value of the estate is less than £5,000 you will be able to administer it by producing the death certificate to the relevant bodies.
If the deceased has left a will naming an executor or executors, then they are responsible for getting probate. This is done by applying to the local Probate Registry office for a Grant of Representation via a written application form which can be downloaded from the gov.uk website.
To fill in the form you’ll need to know the net value of the estate and you will also have to have completed HMRC’s inheritance tax form, even if you believe no inheritance tax will be due on the estate. Usually, an estate with a net worth of more than £325,000 will be due to pay some tax.
Once the Probate Registry office has received your application, you will be invited to the office for an interview so that staff there can check that the facts you’ve given are correct. You’ll have to swear an oath that everything you’ve included in the form is true and accurate to the best of your knowledge.
When someone dies without a will, or the will does not name an executor, or the named executor does not want to act in that capacity, someone, usually a close family member, will have to take on the role of administrator. The administrator must apply to the Probate Registry for Letters of Administration. The application is the same as for the Grant of Representation as is the application process.
Although you are entitled to go through the granting of probate process yourself, many people choose to employ a solicitor to do this for them, especially in the case of large or complex estates.