Applying for probate

Following a death you may need to get a Grant of Probate or if the deceased didn’t leave a Will, a Grant of Letters of Administration. This is an official document giving you the right to deal with a deceased person’s estate. You can apply for a grant by yourself or by using a solicitor.

About probate

Probate is a term commonly used when talking about applying for the right to deal with the affairs of someone who has died. However, you’ll find that different terms are used, depending on if the deceased person left a will and where they lived.

If the deceased has a will, the executor or administrator will apply for a Grant of Probate. 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 belongings). This is called 'administering the estate'. The Executor uses the grant 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 deceased didn't leave a 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.

You may also hear the terms ‘personal representative’ and ‘grant of representation’. A personal representative is the executor or administrator and grant of representation is a general term used for grants of probate and grants of letters of administration.

Do you need a grant?

A grant is almost always needed when the person who died 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 choose to release the money to you.

You may not need a grant if the deceased:

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

To find out if 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.

Find out how to value the estate of someone who has died.

Inheritance tax

You’ll need to deal with inheritance tax before you can apply for probate. 

The tax form you need to complete depends on if you expect Inheritance Tax to be due on the estate. Inheritance Tax is paid if a person’s estate (their property, money and possessions) is worth more than £325,000 when they die.

You can ask a solicitor to help you value the deceased's estate or you can do it yourself. 

There are additional forms that accompany the IHT400. Use the IHT400 help notes to help you decide which you need to complete.

If you do have Inheritance Tax to pay, you should send forms IHT400 and IHT421 together with any payment of Inheritance Tax, if you've already worked this out, to HMRC. Use the address on the form.

If you've indicated on the form that you'd like HMRC to work out the tax for you they will do this and tell you what is due. Once any tax due has been paid, or if there's no tax to pay, HMRC will stamp and return the IHT421 to you. You'll need the stamped IHT421 for the probate inteview.

You can contact the Probate and Inheritance Tax Helpline if you need any advice or help.

Find out more about Inheritance Tax and how to pay it, including paying early or by installments.

Applying for a grant using a solicitor

You can ask a solicitor to apply for the grant for you. There is normally a charge to provide this service, so check out this cost first.

You can search for a solicitor specialising in probate using the Solicitors Directory facility on The Law Society of Northern Ireland website.

Applying for a grant without a solicitor

You can apply for a grant without using a solicitor if the deceased was living in Northern Ireland and:

  • left a valid Will and you are named as executor in that Will
  • did not leave a Will but you are next of kin and are resident in the United Kingdom

To get a grant, you'll need to go to an interview bringing the required original documents with you, confirm the details in your application and sign the probate forms.

Documents and information you’ll need

Here's a handy checklist of documents and information needed for the interview:

  • photo Id for applicant(s)
  • death or coroner’s certificate
  • inheritance tax form IHT205 or IHT421
  • original Will
  • marriage certificate – if no Will and the deceased was married
  • Decree Absolute – if no Will and the deceased was divorced
  • probate fee payment
  • other forms required by the Probate Officer

A copy of the Will is not acceptable. Make sure that no-one writes on the original Will or attaches paperclips or staples to it.

The original Will is kept in the court file after the interview. The certified copy of the death certificate will also be kept on file at the court.

Requesting an interview appointment

When you have all the documents and information needed, you should send a completed appointment request form with the required copy documents to correct the Probate Office.

If the deceased lived in County Fermanagh, Londonderry or Tyrone you can use either the Londonderry or Belfast office, but if they lived in County Antrim, Armagh or Down you must use the Belfast office.

If there is no inheritance tax to pay, you should send the following documents with the appointment request form:

  • copy of the death certificate
  • completed tax form IHT205
  • copy of the will - if there is one

If you completed the tax form IHT400 and IHT421, you'll need to send the following with the appointment request form:

  • copy of the death certificate
  • the stamped IHT421 form
  • copy of the will - if there is one

Download an appointment request form.

The Probate Office will try to give you an interview within three weeks of getting your appointment request form. You will be notified of the appointment date and time by telephone or letter. The interview will take place in a private office and will last about 30 minutes.

If an executor named in the deceased’s Will cannot come to the interview, you should contact the relevant Probate Office, they will tell you what to do.

If the deceased person left a Will, at least seven days must have passed from the date of death to the date of appointment. If there is no Will, 28 days must have passed.

Find contact details for the probate offices in Belfast and Londonderry.

Probate interview

You need to bring the required original documents to the interview. You can bring a friend with you, but no person acting as an adviser may be present at the interview.

You must bring the right documents with you for the interview. If you don't your application will not be able to go ahead. You will then need to get a solicitor to make the application on your behalf. 

Probate staff will look at the documents, ask you some questions and prepare the probate forms for you to check.

You will make an oath or affirmation confirming that all the details of your application are true and correct. You will then sign the probate forms. 

After the interview

The Probate Office should issue the Grant of Probate or Grant of Letters of Administration soon after the interview. It will be sent to you by post.

Probate fees

The fees to be paid are based on the net value of the estate and are made up of two parts, the grant fee and the personal application fee.

Net value of the estate Grant fee Personal application fee*
less than £10,000 nil nil
more than £10,000 £200.00 £50.00

*The personal application fee is only charged if you are applying for a grant without a solicitor.

Certified copies of a grant cost £10.00 each. These are useful if you have to deal with several financial institutions.

If you think you'll have trouble paying the fees you may be able to get help. Find out more on the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunal Service website.

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