What Is Probate?

‘Probate’ is a legal process relating to dealing with a deceased person’s affairs. It is also sometimes referred to as ‘administering the estate’. There are different terms used, depending on where the deceased person lived or whether they left a will or not. The information below covers probate within England and Wales.

The terms associated with probate

In the case that the deceased person did leave a will, one or more ‘executors’ may be called upon to deal with the person’s affairs after they die. The executor needs to acquire ‘a grant of probate’ from the probate registry of the court. The grant gives the executor legal authority to deal with the deceased person’s estate (property, money and possessions). The document shows that they have the right to access funds, sort out finances and collect and share out the deceased person’s assets according to the terms of the will.

If the deceased person did not leave a will, a close relative of the deceased can apply to the probate registry to deal with their affairs. In which case, they have to apply for a ‘grant of letters of administration’ from the court. If successful, they will be known as ‘administrators of the estate’. Like the grant of probate, the grant letter is a legal document which confirm the holder’s authority to deal with the assets of the deceased.

In some cases, for example, where the person benefits a child, the law dictates that more than one person must act as an administrator.

Grant of confirmation. If the deceased person lived in Scotland, you apply for a ‘grant of confirmation’.

Personal representative, is a general term for executor or administrator.

Grant of representation, is a general term which covers ‘grants of probate’ and ‘grants of letters of administration’.

Inheritance Tax – The personal representative won’t be granted probate until some or all of the Inheritance Tax due on the estate has been paid off.

When do you need a grant of probate/representation?

A grant is almost always required when the deceased person leaves one or more of the following:

Stocks and/or shares
Certain insurance policies
Property or land left in their own name or as ‘tenants in common’ (joint ownership of property where each joint tenant owns a separate share in the property)

In most above cases, the bank or relevant institution will require to see the grant before transferring the control of the assets. Depending on the size of the estate, some organisations may release the assets to you at their own discretion.

When do you not need a grant?

A grant may not be needed when:

The deceased person left less than £5,000
They owned property jointly with someone else and everything passes automatically to the surviving joint owner

To establish if the assets can be obtained without a grant, the executor or administrator would need to notify the relevant institutions of the death, with a written letter and a photocopy of the death certificate.