A beginners guide to understanding probate

You’ve very likely come across the word probate before, but do you actually know what it means or what the probate process involves? If you’re dealing with the death of a loved one, you’ll likely be feeling stressed, sad and overwhelmed, so having a clear understanding of the legal journey can help to take some of the pressure off and leave you able to concentrate on the more important things.

What is probate?

Put simply, probate gives you the legal right to administer the estate of a deceased person. When we talk about someone’s ‘estate’ that just means all of their finances – their home, savings, investments as well as any debts and tax liabilities.

The probate process involves validating the will if there is one, working out the total value of the estate, paying off any debts or taxes and distributing what’s left to the beneficiaries. If property is involved, you’ll need probate to authorise a probate house sale.

Do you always need to go through probate?

No, not all estates require probate, it will depend on how much money is involved. Generally, if the deceased owned a property or had significant savings then probate will be necessary. If they were renting or living in care and had less than about £30,000 in assets then you’ll likely not need it.

Probate may also not be required if assets were jointly owned and pass directly to the other person. This is usually the case if one partner in a married couple dies for instance. Every organisation has its own rules, so you’ll need to get in touch with each one to discuss this.

How to apply for probate

I have distilled the process into five simple steps so that you know exactly what you need to do and what you can expect at every stage:

Check if you need probate: In the first instance you should contact the deceased’s bank and other relevant financial institutions to see what their requirements are and whether or not you’ll need probate to access their assets.

Work out the value of their estate: This should include all assets including property, savings and investments, less any debts or tax owed.

Pay inheritance tax: If the value of the estate is over the current threshold of £325,000 then you’ll be eligible to pay inheritance tax. This has to be done before the grant of probate can be issued.

Apply for probate: You’ll need to submit your application to the Probate Registry, either online or by post. The current application fee is £300. Estates under £5,000 have no fee.

Receive the grant of probate: If the application is successful, you’ll receive a Grant of Probate (or Grant of Letters of Administration if there’s no will). This legal document gives you the authority to deal with the deceased’s estate.

Navigating probate can be a complex and emotionally taxing process, but hopefully it seems a little less daunting after reading this. If you have any questions at all, it’s always a good idea to seek professional help to make sure the process goes as smoothly and quickly as possible. 

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