What is Probate?

At some point in our lives, we may have to deal with the estate of a family member. That will involve going through the Probate process. Whether or not you choose to do this yourself or instruct a solicitor, it can be beneficial to know the basics of how it works and what kind of things must be done.

Read on for our concise guide to what Probate is and what you need to do.

1) 30 Second Summary

  • Probate is a large part of the process of winding up a deceased’s person’s estate.
  • The time it takes to process depends on the size and complexity of the estate – but it averages about 6-12 months.
  • Being the Executor and dealing with Probate for an estate can take many hours of work and admin. If the Executor does not have the time or capability, you should consider instructing a solicitor to deal with it for you.
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2) Probate Explained

What is Probate? Simply put, it is a term for the process of winding up a person’s estate after their death – settling their financial and legal affairs and distributing the deceased’s “assets” (property, possessions and money) to their Beneficiaries. It involves a lot of administrative work – filing the correct documents, tracing and contacting Beneficiaries, collecting and paying off debts, etc.

The time this takes varies depending on the size of the estate and how complicated their financial situation was. On average, it usually takes 6-12 months. Probate that runs into complications or delays could take significantly longer, even several years.

The Probate process is a set of tasks, and it is important that they must be performed in a certain order. The Grant of Probate gives you authority to handle every aspect of a person’s estate. This is a big responsibility and can mean a lot of work. This is why some opt to instruct a solicitor to handle it for them. There are two different documents you need to be able to be given authority to handle the Probate for a person’s estate:

  • The Grant of Probate. This is for when there is a valid Will in place.
  • Letters of Administration. This is for Intestate estates – when there is no valid Will. They are essentially the same document.

Not every estate will have to go through Probate. The general rule is that if the estate includes any sort of property or assets totalling more than £15,000, you will need to obtain Probate. However, this is not always the case – sometimes the deceased’s bank may ask for a Grant of Probate from you, even in the case of a smaller estate.

Does Having a Will Help?

Yes – having a Will can help the Probate process in some ways. It can simplify the work for the Executors, in that they don’t have to track down Beneficiaries, creditors and others you need to contact or deal with in connection to the estate.

3) The Probate Steps

  1. Immediately after death. Make an appointment with the register office to obtain the death certificate and prepare the necessary papers to take. Arrange the funeral and notify friends and family.
  2. The Will. Locate the Will and check the validity if necessary. Decide whether you need to instruct a solicitor.
  3. The Grant of Probate. Ascertain whether the estate needs a Grant of Probate or not: (1) Are there any properties (2) Are they jointly-owned (3) What is the bank account balance.
  4. Interim Steps. Make sure with other family members that it is indeed your responsibility to handle Probate. Arrange for the immediate care of pets and any dependents. Inform the necessary agencies: insurance providers, delivery and subscriptions, utility providers, bank accounts and other asset holders. Identify all the assets – including all property, possessions, investments, stocks and shares, pension funds, savings accounts,etc. Identify all liabilities: debts, loans and outstanding bills. Get valuations of individual items if necessary (vehicles, jewelry, antiques, etc.).
  5. The Property. Organise a valuation and clearance of the house. Find and appoint an estate agent. Locate the deeds. Find and instruct a solicitor.
  6. Taxes. Calculate the Capital Gains, Income tax and Inheritance tax payable. Seek guidance from a tax advisor if necessary. Pay balance to HMRC.
  7. Applying for the Grant. Apply with the appropriate form (depending on whether there is a valid Will or not) to the Probate Registry. Await the Grant.
  8. Grant Obtained. Register the Grant with banks and any other asset holders. Collect all assets. Pay off all debts and expenses incurred so far. Pay out the Legacies (gifts to Beneficiaries). Update your account records and make the final distributions. Close all accounts.
  9. Final Tasks. Make the last checks of all documents, make sure all paperwork is present and sorted. Make sure they are filed together and stored in a safe place.

This is just the main duties involved in dealing with Probate – not a comprehensive list. There will be many other tasks involved when winding up a person’s estate. But it gives you a picture of the type of things you need to handle.

4) What If You Don't Have a Will?

You might wonder if this is going to be a more difficult process if there isn’t a valid Will. Even so, there is nothing you can do about it for the estate of some who have already passed. But it is a consideration for individuals who have not made a valid Will yet.

This is not a huge problem for dealing with Probate, but it can make it more difficult in some areas. A Will is a comprehensive list of all the deceased’s assets, as well as who they intend to inherit. It could potentially be a lot more work to identify all the assets that make up a person’s estate – tracing bank and savings accounts, old debts, potential properties or assets abroad, and so on. It could also be difficult to trace those who are to inherit the estate.

Overall, a Will can greatly help the Probate process to run smoothly and will make the job of the Executors easier.

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5) Should You Instruct a Solicitor?

Many people opt to handle the Probate process themselves. If you are embarking on this and are unsure whether you could handle the workload or type of tasks involved, consider these points.

The amount of time involved. The duties involved are numerous and the administrative work can be a lot. Estimates put it at about 80-100 hours of work. If you work full-time or have other responsibilities, you may want to consider whether you could devote the necessary time and energy to getting this done.

The potential complexity of the estate. If the deceased’s estate was very large or complicated, consider carefully whether you have the necessary skills or resources to do this yourself, as well as the time – complicated estates can take a lot of time and have many more potential delays that could come up. For example, if the deceased owned assets abroad or was living abroad with assets in the U.K, you may need a lawyer or accountant in this country.

Of course, you will also want to think about the expense, and whether instructing a solicitor is payable out of the estate.

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