Probate is essentially the legal right to sort out someone’s financial affairs after they’ve died, and if a loved one has asked you to be an executor of their will, the onus will be on you to deal with their estate.
The probate process includes paying bills and Inheritance Tax if applicable, as well as passing on money or gifts that have been left in someone’s will. Only the executor or executors named in that will can apply for probate.
Here, we explain when you need to get a grant of probate and how to go about it.
Do you always need probate when someone dies?
Not necessarily, as the process depends on whether or not an executor has been appointed and whether there was much in the estate that was owned solely by the person who died. You may not need to get probate at all. If the person who died didn’t own their own home and didn’t own any land or shares, you may not need to get probate.
If, for example, your husband died and your home was owned jointly as joint tenants and any savings were in joint accounts, you wouldn’t need to get probate. That’s because property owned as joint tenants and money that’s in a joint account automatically passes to the surviving person when the other dies, whether or not there’s a will.
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How do I apply for a grant of probate?
Before you can apply for probate, you must find out whether the person who’s died has a will or not, so you’ll need to check with their solicitor if you know who that is.
If there isn’t a will in place: An administrator will need to be appointed. More details on how an administrator is appointed can be found at Gov.uk. If there’s no will in place, this is known as dying ‘intestate’. For more information on what happens when someone dies ‘intestate’ in our article Sorting out an estate when someone dies without a will.
If there is a will in place: If you’re an executor and responsible for dealing with the estate, you can apply for probate by completing a probate application form, which can be done online.
In England and Wales, if the value of the estate is over £5,000, the probate application fee is £273. There’s no fee if the estate is £5,000 or less.
When you apply for probate, you can order extra copies of the probate document for £1.50 each, so you can send them to different organisations at the same time.
In Scotland, you need to apply for ‘confirmation’ rather than probate. There are two types of confirmation, for small estates and for large estates. A ‘small estate’ is an estate where the total value of the person’s money and property is £36,000 or less. A ‘large estate’ is an estate where the total value is higher than £36,000.
Appointing a probate specialist: In many cases you may need a probate specialist to help with dealing with the estate, particularly if there’s an inheritance tax liability or if the estate is complicated. This may be a solicitor or accountant. Again, you will pay a fee of £273 when you apply for probate, if the value of the estate is over £500, even if a solicitor is doing it for you. For more information go to Probate fees – what you’ll pay to sort out someone’s financial affairs.
Is a grant of representation the same as probate?
A ‘grant of representation’ is required if there is no will in place, to access the deceased person’s bank account, investments and so on.
So, put simply, a letter or grant of representation is used where the person who has died has not left a will, and probate is used when there is a will.
Banks’ limits for probate
If the person who died had savings or investments in his or her name, then whether or not you’d need to get probate would depend on how much they had and which bank or building society they held the savings with.
Here’s what the major banks do:
Barclays: the limit is £50,000. If the person had less than £50,000 in savings with Barclays (in one or more accounts combined), you wouldn’t need to get probate to access the money.
First Direct: For amounts up to £20,000, you don’t need to get probate.
HSBC: The limit used to be £20,000, but this limit was removed and now all cases are assessed individually.
Lloyds Bank: For amounts up to £50,000, you don’t need to get probate. This limit applies to the three Lloyds Bank banking brands individually. So, someone could have up to £50,000 in Halifax Bank, £50,000 in Lloyds Bank and £50,000 in Bank of Scotland and wouldn’t need to get probate for them.
NS&I: For amounts up to £5,000, you normally don’t need to get probate.
NatWest: For amounts up to £25,000, you don’t need to get probate.
Nationwide: For amounts up to £30,000, you don’t need to get probate.
RBS: For amounts up to £25,000, you don’t need to get probate.
Santander: For amounts up to £50,000, you don’t need to get probate.
TSB: For amounts up to £50,000, you don’t need to get probate.
Is there a time limit to apply for probate?
There’s no specific deadline by which you have to apply for probate, but putting it off is likely to mean any inheritance due to beneficiaries gets held up, so it’s a good idea for executors to apply relatively quickly.
Another reason why you don’t want to hang around is because if the estate is liable for Inheritance Tax, this must be paid within six months of the person dying, or interest on the amount owed will start being charged. Once this happens, the value of the estate will start to reduce for beneficiaries. Inheritance tax has to be paid before probate can be granted and assets are distributed. Find out more about how Inheritance Tax works in our guide Understanding Inheritance Tax and about other steps you need to take when a loved one passes away in our article What to do when someone dies.
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