If someone you know has died, and you have been asked to deal with their affairs, you need to be able to prove that you have the legal right to do this. Otherwise, you will run into difficulties when trying to access their bank accounts or sell their property and belongings. The most common way to prove your legal right to act is to apply for a grant of probate, as Ben Jones, Watford wills and probate specialist with Hancock Quins Solicitors, explains.
What is a grant of probate?
Obtaining a grant of probate is the legal process you need to go through to be recognised as having the legal right to deal with someone’s affairs after they have died. Depending on the circumstances, a grant of probate is sometimes referred to as a grant of representation or a grant of letters of administration (with or without a will).
To prove probate has been granted, you will receive a legal document which confirms your authority to collect in and distribute the money, property and possessions of the deceased person, collectively known as their ‘estate’.
Do I need a grant of probate?
You may not need a grant of probate if:
- everything the deceased person owned was in joint names, for example with their spouse, and therefore passed to the surviving joint owner;
- the deceased person did not own any property, land or shares; or
- if the value of their estate is worth less than £15,000.
However, advice should always be sought to determine whether probate is necessary in any given case. This is particularly important as some banks and building societies require a grant of probate for estates worth more than £5,000, and others insist on it irrespective of value.
Can anyone apply?
Anyone named in the deceased’s will as an executor can apply for a grant of probate.
Where no will exists, a family member can make the application instead.
Sometimes, disputes arise where more than one person is entitled to apply. This is particularly common where there is no will and family members are concerned that they may not be dealt with fairly. In this situation it is possible, if you are aged 18 or over, to register a restriction (called a ‘caveat’) to stop probate being issued until the dispute has been resolved. To do this you need to submit an application for a caveat to the Probate Registry and pay a fee, currently set at £20. Once in place, the caveat will last for six months.
What is the process?
To obtain a grant of probate you will need to:
- complete a probate application form;
- complete an inheritance tax form, and possibly pay a proportion of any tax due;
- provide a copy of the death certificate and will (if one exists);
- pay a fee if the estate is worth £5,000 or more;
- submit your application to the local Probate Registry; and
- swear an oath confirming the accuracy of the information given.
Providing your application is successful, you can expect to receive the grant of probate within ten working days of the oath being sworn.
What happens once a grant has been made?
Once the grant of probate has been issued, you can use it to gain access to the deceased person’s bank accounts and to collect in, sell and distribute their assets. However, before paying any money out, you need to ensure any debts owed are settled, including the payment of any outstanding inheritance tax.
If you require advice on probate, or any other issue relating to wills, trusts or estate administration, please contact Ben Jones on 01923 650852 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.