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What is probate?

'Probate' is a term commonly used when talking about applying for the right to deal with a deceased person's affairs (called 'administering the estate'). In practice, different terms are used, depending on whether or not the deceased person left a will and where they lived.

Different terms associated with probate

If the person who has died leaves a will

In this case one or more 'executors' may be named in the will to deal with the person's affairs after their death. The executor applies for a 'grant of probate' from a section of the court known as the probate registry.

The grant is a legal document which confirms that the executor has the authority to deal with the deceased person's assets (property, money and possessions). They can use it to show they have the right to access funds, sort out finances, and collect and share out the deceased person's assets as set out in the will.

If the person who has died didn't leave a will

If there is no will, a close relative of the deceased can apply to the probate registry to deal with the estate. In this case they apply for a 'grant of letters of administration'. If the grant is given, they are known as 'administrators' of the estate. Like the grant of probate, the grant of letters of administration is a legal document which confirms the administrator's authority to deal with the deceased person's assets.

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

Personal representative

This is a general term which means executor or administrator.

Grant of representation

This is a general term which includes grants of probate and grants of letters of administration

Is a grant of probate/representation always needed?

When a grant is needed

A grant is almost always needed when the person who dies leaves one or more of the following:

  • £10,000 or more
  • stocks or shares
  • certain insurance policies
  • property or land held in their own name or as 'tenants in common'

In most cases above, the bank or relevant institution will need to see the grant before transferring control of the assets. However if the estate is small some organisations, such as insurance companies and building societies, may release the money to you at their discretion.)

When a grant may not be needed

A grant of representation may not be needed where:

  • the person who died left less than £10,000
  • they owned everything jointly with someone else and everything passes automatically to the surviving joint owner

To establish whether the assets can be obtained without a grant, the executor or administrator would need to write to each institution informing them of the death and enclosing a photocopy of the death certificate (and will if there is one).

Probate and Inheritance Tax

The personal representative won't be granted probate until some or all of any Inheritance Tax that is due on the estate has been paid.

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