What Is Probate?

Find out what probate is and who needs to apply for it

Last updated: 17 July 2019

Probate written in scrabble tiles

What is probate?

Probate is the process of proving that a will is legal and valid in a court of law. Before distributing the estate of a person who has died, their will needs to be proven to be legal and binding in probate court.

What is an executor?

The person responsible for carrying out the last will and testament of a person who has died is known as the executor. They need to complete the probate process, after which they will receive a grant of probate.

What is a grant of probate?

A grant of probate gives the executor of a persons will the legal right to access the finances of, and administer the estate of, a person who has died. If a person died without leaving a will, the executor will need a grant of letters of administration.

What is a grant of letters of administration?

A grant of letters of administration allows someone to access the finances of someone who has died in the event that they did not leave a will.

What is a grant of representation?

The legal authorisation to manage the estate of a loved one is sometimes referred to as ‘grant of representation’. This term can be used instead of both probate and letters of administration.

How do you apply for probate?

To apply for probate you need to fill in the necessary forms and send them to your local Probate Registry. You need to fill in probate application form PA1 for England, Wales and Northern Ireland, or form C1 in Scotland. You can get help and advice on filling in the form by calling the inheritance tax and probate helpline.

There can be more than one executor named in the will. If this happens, only one of the executors needs to complete and send the forms to the Probate Registry.

What are probate fees?

If the estate being managed is valued under £5,000, you do not have to pay a probate fee. If the estate is valued at £5,000 or over, the executor will usually pay a £215 fee.

Normally, costs attributed to managing of the estate are paid by the estate. However, as you will not yet have access to the estate’s money, the executor will need to pay the fee. You may then be able to reclaim this fee from the estate once probate has been granted.

Executors that need to get financial assistance to pay for this fee can do so by filling out the EX160 form.

Interview with the Probate Registry

The Probate Registry will contact the executor to arrange an interview. At this interview, the executor will have to verify the information on the legal paperwork before swearing an oath. This is an important part of applying for probate.

The executor must bring all of the relevant documentation and letters regarding the estate to this interview.

There is also the option for the executor to go to a probate solicitor’s office to recite the oath instead of traveling to the Probate Registry. This service will incur a small fee, but can be more convenient for some.

You will usually receive documents confirming that probate has been granted within 10 days of attending the interview.

What happens after a grant of probate has been issued?

Documents confirming that probate has been granted will be sent to the executor, as well as a letter stating how much inheritance tax is due. Within these documents you will find information about the gross worth and the net worth of the estate.

The gross worth of the estate is the total amount before taxes and debts have been deducted, the net worth is what remains after deductions.

The will and probate documents are considered public, so they can be examined by anyone who requests to see them. As soon as you receive these documents, you can start managing the estate.

What if a grant of probate is not issued?

If the Probate Registry is not able to grant probate, you will receive an explanation in writing. As executor, you won’t be able to access the finances of the person who has died without a grant of probate. You will need to address whatever issues stopped your grant of probate being issued and re-apply.

When is probate not required?

Probate will not be required if the person has died left what is known as a ‘small estate’ or if the estate only includes:

  • Cash and personal possessions such as cars and jewellery
  • Property that is jointly-owned with a living person
  • Bank accounts that are jointly-owned with a living person
  • Debts that are greater in value than the assets
  • Life insurance policies and pension benefits

What is a small estate?

If the person who has died left an estate that totals £5,000 or less, then it is legally known as a ‘small estate’. In those cases, no process of probate is required.