Probate and Administration of Estate

When someone dies their assets, known collectively as their 'Estate' will need to be administered in accordance either with the wishes of their will, or if there is no will, under the Intestacy Rules.

What is Probate/Administration? It is the process in which someone applies for the right to deal with a deceased person's estate. If there is a valid Will this will be the Executor(s) named in the Will who will apply for a Grant of Probate. If there is no will, or an executor does not wish to take up the appointment, then someone else can apply for Letters of Administration, this is usually a family member.  Once the Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration has been issued then they have the authority to administer the estate.

The probate process - at a glance

Here is an overview of the steps to take in England and Wales, with more detail in the sections below. Again, the process differs in Scotland and Northern Ireland - please follow the links above for more information.

  • Value the estate and speak to the deceased's banks and other financial organisations to establish whether you need a grant of representation (or confirmation).
  • If you do need a grant of representation, complete the relevant application and Inheritance Tax form - the Inheritance Tax form will vary depending on whether or not the estate owes Inheritance Tax.
  • Send the forms to the relevant government bodies (in England and Wales, that's the Probate Registry and HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC)).
      1. Pay whatever Inheritance Tax is due.
      2. Attend in person at a Probate venue or at the office of any commissioner for oaths (usually a solicitor's office) to swear an oath.
      3. Wait for the grant of representation (or confirmation) to arrive in the post - banks and other organisations will ask to see this before they allow access to the deceased's assets.
      4. Pay any debts owed by the estate and then distribute the estate.

    Step 1 - Value the estate to see if you need a grant of representation

    When you might not need a grant of representation

    A grant may not be needed if the estate:

        • is a low-value estate - generally worth less than £5,000 (though this figure can vary) - and doesn't include land, property or shares
        • passes to the surviving spouse/civil partner because it was held in joint names

    When you contact the deceased's bank or other financial institutions, they will either release the funds or tell you to get a grant of representation (or confirmation) first. Some banks and financial institutions may insist on a grant before giving you access to even a small amount of money.

    When a grant of representation is usually needed

    You will almost certainly need a grant if the estate includes:

        • assets generally worth more than £5,000 in total (though again this figure varies)
        • land or property in the sole name of the deceased, or held as 'tenants in common' with someone else
        • stocks or shares
        • some insurance policies

    Step 2 - Applying for a grant of representation

    You'll have to fill in an Inheritance Tax form in addition to the PA1 Probate Application form, even if the estate doesn't owe Inheritance Tax. The estate will only owe Inheritance Tax if it's over the threshold (£325,000 in 2012-13).

    The Inheritance Tax forms you need depend on the following:

        • where the deceased lived - England and Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland or abroad
        • the size of the estate
        • whether it is an 'excepted estate' (ie you don't need to fill in a full Inheritance Tax account - form IHT400)

    Usually, if an estate has no Inheritance Tax to pay, it will be an excepted estate. However, this is not always the case. Some estates that don't owe Inheritance Tax still require a full Inheritance Tax account.

    If you're not sure whether the estate is an excepted estate, you'll need to start filling in a Return of Estate Information form (form IHT205 in England and Wales). Depending on your answers to certain questions, the form will make clear when you should stop filling in that form and switch to form IHT400 (a full Inheritance Tax account) instead.

    Step 3 - Send the forms to the relevant government bodies

    Send completed IHT205 forms and the PA1 Probate Application form to your nearest Probate Registry. You'll also have to include the original will (if there is one), the death certificate, and the probate fee. If you've filled in form IHT400, follow the instructions on page 55 of the IHT400 guidance notes.

    The process is different in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

    Step 4 - Pay any Inheritance Tax due

    If the estate owes Inheritance Tax, you won't receive the grant of representation (or confirmation) unless you pay some or all of the Inheritance Tax first. The 'due date' is six months after the date of death.

    Steps 5 to 7 - What happens next?

    Once you've paid any Inheritance Tax and sent off the forms to the Probate Registry, the process takes about eight weeks if there are no problems. There are three stages:

    • examination of forms and documents

      Probate Registry staff check the forms and documents and prepare the papers for your interview if you are attending a probate venue or they will send you the oath to take with you to a commissioner for oaths
    • swear the oath

      All the personal representatives who have applied for a grant of representation will need to swear an oath, either at a Probate venue or at the office of any commissioner for oaths (usually a solicitor's office)
    • probate is granted

      The grant of representation is sent to you by post from the Probate Registry

    After you get the grant of representation (or confirmation) and have paid any Inheritance Tax due, you can collect in the money from the estate. You can then pay any debts owed by the estate and distribute the estate according to the will or the rules of intestacy.

    Pearson Caulfield are happy to assist you in dealing with the administration of an estate. If you wish us to deal with matters on your behalf please contact us and complete or download the online Probate Questionnaire.

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