Understanding the Probate Process in the UK

Losing a loved one is difficult enough without the administrative, financial, and legal complexities of probate. Jargon such as ‘applying for the grant’, ‘estate’ vs ‘assets’, ‘executors’ vs ‘administrators’ are all thrown at you while you may be trying to navigate a funeral, your own finances, and your own grief.

Our probate team know that the first step to helping an Executor, or anyone trying to understand the probate process, is to break down jargon and the steps into plain English.

This blog focuses on the probate process in England & Wales. Our expert probate solicitors also deal with overseas estates – get in touch with our team for bespoke advice.

Your Probate Quick Guide
Your Free Guide

Your Probate Quick Guide

When you are grieving, it can be frustrating to deal with the complexities of the UK probate system, which is a notoriously difficult process.

Our free probate quick guide is designed to navigate you through the key pitfalls and dangers that can be avoided when dealing with a probate.

What is an Executor?

When someone dies, the money, property, and belongings they leave behind are called assets. The assets are grouped together and called the ‘estate’. An Executor is a person who is named in the Will to deal with the estate in accordance with the wishes outlined in the Will. If you are named Executor in a Will, you are responsible for making sure that the Will is followed and are liable for any mistakes made during the probate process. Click here to read more about Executors’ responsibilities.

What is a beneficiary?

A beneficiary is a person who inherits something from the Will, such as money or property. You can be both the Executor and a beneficiary of a Will. If you are a beneficiary but not named Executor, you do not have authority to deal with assets in the estate. You will need to wait for the Executor to carry out the probate process and transfer your inheritance to you.

Grant of Probate

The Grant of Probate is a document that gives Executors authority to access bank accounts, sell shares, sell and transfer property, and otherwise deal with the deceased person’s estate. The application for the Grant of Probate can be complex, and if any mistakes are made, the Probate Registry will send it back – and put you to the bottom of the pile. This is where it can be very helpful to have a probate solicitor step in to review the application and chase the Probate Registry to turn your application around quickly. Until you have the Grant of Probate, you will be unable to take the next steps.

What is the deceased didn't leave a Will?

If the person who died did not leave a Will behind, an application will need to be made for Letters of Administration, which carries out the same function as the Grant of Probate. Instead of an Executor, the person named to deal with the estate is called an Administrator.

The Administration of Estates Act 1925 sets out who can be made Administrator when someone has died without a Will in order of priority. If the person who died did not have a spouse or any children, other members of the family may be able to apply.

Probate: The core process

Every person, their assets, and their family, are different. Probate can range from the simple process of transferring a property and some bank accounts into a spouse’s name, to a large estate with many properties, bank accounts, shares, and family members to think about. At the core of every probate, however, are some key steps.

Step 1: Register the death and find the Will

First of all, you must register the death and ensure that you have the death certificate. Read our quick guide here for what to do when someone dies.

Once you have the death certificate, you must find out whether the person who died made a Will. If they did leave a Will, only the Executors named in the Will have the authority to deal with any assets or carry out the probate process. The Executors can now use the Will to apply for the Grant of Probate.

Step 2: Gather together information on the estate

It is vital to gather together a list of all the property, savings, shares, and other assets that the person who died owned. You will also need to list any debts. You will need to contact banks, financial institutions, and government organisations to gather all of the information.

Over a lifetime, a person can accumulate many different bank accounts, shares, and belongings. As probate solicitors, we often help our clients to track down and list all of the assets. It is vital to get this right, as you will need to declare the value of the estate to HMRC. Executors who get this wrong are liable and can be charged heavy fines for making mistakes. Using a probate solicitor not only saves you time in tracking down all of the assets and debts but can also prevent you from being penalised for any misjudgement.

Step 3: Valuation and Inheritance Tax Return

It is key at this point to have an understanding of what kind of valuation you need before you declare the value of the estate to HMRC. As outlined above, if you get this wrong, you are personally liable and may be fined, or asked to pay beneficiaries who lost out due to your miscalculations. Our job as probate solicitors is to advise you upon what type of valuation is appropriate, whether the assets are likely to change in value, how the assets could be maximised to profit the beneficiaries, and to carry out the Inheritance Tax Return on your behalf in compliance with the law.

Depending upon the size of the estate, you will also need to deal with Capital Gains Tax. Assets given away before death, assets in joint names, and interests in assets that have been given up all need to be taken into account.

We have dealt with thousands of estates and know how to deal with them quickly and efficiently, saving you time, trouble, and money as well as a lot of worry.

Step 4: Distribute assets in accordance with the Will

If a Will has been left behind, the wishes of the deceased must be followed. Any property will need to be transferred or cleared and sold, debts must be paid off, and belongings and cash must be paid to beneficiaries as set out in the Will. As an Executor, you are legally responsible for tracking down and transferring assets to beneficiaries, unless you instruct a solicitor to do so for you.

If no Will has been left behind, then the Rules of Intestacy will dictate who is entitled to what from the deceased’s estate. We can help advise you on this.

How long does probate take?

The process of applying for the Grant of Probate can take up to 12 weeks alone, depending upon how long the Probate Office takes to process your application and whether any mistakes have been made on the application.

The probate process as a whole can take between months and years depending on how the size and complexity of the estate and whether you instruct a Solicitor.

How do I pay for probate?

Our fees for dealing with probate can be taken from the estate. Every estate is different, so depending upon how complex the probate is, we will advise you upon how long we think it will take and what our fees will be.

Get started with expert probate solicitors at Burt Brill & Cardens

We know that dealing with all of the elements of probate can feel overwhelming at an already difficult time. When you get in touch with our team, we will speak to you in depth about the estate you are dealing with, any worries you may have, and any key areas where you need help. You will be assigned to one expert probate solicitor who will work closely with you every step of the way and be on hand to advise you. At Burt Brill & Cardens, we have teams in probate, property, and litigation, which means that all legal parts of the probate process can be dealt with in house.

If you would like an initial call with someone who understands how difficult probate can be, get in touch with our supportive and expert team on 01273 604 123.

See more: Probate: The Most Common Warning Sign of Danger Ahead

See more: Can You do the Probate Yourself?


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