Following a death, you may need to get authority from the High Court to deal with the deceased’s estate - assets, house, and money. This is called probate. Applications for probate depend on whether the deceased left a will, and other factors. You must be 18 or over to apply.
Dealing with a deceased person’s estate
You can get details about dealing with a deceased person’s estate at the following link:
When probate is needed
If the deceased left a Will, a Grant of Probate will be issued.
If there’s no will, a Grant of Letters of Administration is issued.
A Grant of Probate is almost always needed when the person who died leaves one or more of the following:
- around £20,000 in any one account
- stocks or shares
- certain insurance policies
- property or land held in their own name or as 'tenants in common'
In most of the above cases, 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 £20,000
- owned everything jointly with someone else and everything passes automatically to that person
To find out if the assets can be received without a grant, you will have to contact each bank/ building society/ credit union/ other financial institution and so on, telling them of the death.
If the deceased left a Will
You must have the original Will (and any codicils) to apply.
A Will is a legal document letting you decide what happens to your money, property and belongings after your death.
It must be signed and dated by you and witnessed by two people who will not benefit from anything in the Will.
All three of you must be present together at the signing of the Will to witness each other’s signatures.
It should name people you want to give your estate to and their relationship to you (for example, my nephew John Smith or my first wife Jane Smith).
A video recording is not a valid legal Will.
A codicil is an addition to an existing Will that makes some alterations but leaves the rest of the Will intact. It is as legally-binding as the original Will and must be signed, dated and witnessed in the same way as the original Will.
If you are named as an executor in a Will, you can apply for probate to deal with the estate of the deceased.
If there is more than one executor, all executors will have to decide who fills in the application on behalf of the others, as the lead applicant.
This will not affect the rights of the others - all executors named in the Grant of Probate will be able to act.
All executors who are applying will have to initial the original Will before applying. The original Will must be lodged along with the application.
When sending the Will to the Probate Office, do not attach paperclips or staples to it.
Also, do not remove any staples or other bindings that already exist.
The person who died should have told all executors where to find the original Will, for example:
- at their house
- with a solicitor
If there is a Will, but none of the named executors are willing or able to apply (for example, if all executors are deceased), then you must get legal advice to make sure the right person is applying for probate.
The person entitled to apply in this situation is set out at the following link:
If the deceased did not leave a Will
If there is no Will, check if you’re eligible to apply at the following link:
You are eligible to apply for letters of administration if you’re the next of kin of the person who has died, in the following order of priority:
- the spouse or civil partner
- their child - not including step-children
- if a son or daughter has already died, the grandchildren of the deceased may apply
- their parent
- their brother or sister, including half-brothers and half-sisters - if their brother or sister has died, their children
- their grandparent
- their uncle or aunt, or if their uncle or aunt has died, their children
You can apply if you were still married or in a civil partnership with the person when they died, even if you were separated from them.
You cannot apply if you’re the partner of the person but were not their spouse or civil partner when they died.
It is possible for up to four people who have equal entitlement to apply on the same application if they all wish.
In this case, they will have to agree who fills in the application on behalf of all the others, as the lead applicant - this will not affect the rights of the others.
All administrators named in the application will be named in the grant and will be able to deal with the estate. However, any one applicant may apply on their own.
Not wanting to act in the administration of the estate
If you are named as an executor in a Will, or are the next of kin when a Will has not been made, but you do not want to be involved in the administration of the estate, you have two choices.
The law in Northern Ireland automatically reserves your right and this means you can choose not to act as executor in an application but reserve your power to do so at a later date.
This means that you are giving up your rights to act in this application or any future applications about this estate.
A separate application to the High Court Master would be needed to get reinstated in future once you renounce your right.
When a person who has died lived outside Northern Ireland and has assets in that country, then a Grant of Probate (along with a certified copy of the Will) or Letters of Administration may be issued by the court in the country of residence.
If the person who died also held assets in Northern Ireland, a Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration may be needed to administer those assets.
In this case an application may be made to the Probate Office in Northern Ireland to have the copy Foreign Grant (and copy Will) or copy Letters of Administration resealed to administer the estate in Northern Ireland.
If the Foreign Grant and Will are not in English then a translation must be given and lodged with your application.
The Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service (NICTS) advises that you should seek legal advice before filling in this type of application.
Stopping a probate application (caveat)
If there is a dispute, you can challenge the application for probate by entering what is called a 'caveat'.
You can enter a caveat, if there’s a dispute about things like:
- who can apply for probate
- whether a valid Will exists
A caveat lasts six months and can be renewed anytime within one month of its expiration (for example, if the caveat is due to run out on 11 November, it can be renewed anytime between 11 October and 11 November).
How to enter a caveat
To enter a caveat you must be aged 18 years old or over, and you can do it yourself or use a solicitor.
To apply for a caveat, you’ll need:
- the full name of the person who died, including any other names they were known by
- the date and place of death
- last address of the person who has died
- a home address in Northern Ireland
- the court fee
- to fill in a caveat form and post it to or take it to the Probate Office
- Probate forms and guidance
How to apply for probate
Some applications can be made online, others must be made by filling in an application form.
You can check if you can apply online, or which paper form is the right one for your particular application, at the following link:
All executors named in the Will may apply and a maximum of four administrators can apply – both online or using the paper forms.
If applying online, all executors/ administrators who wish to apply must each have separate email addresses and mobile phone numbers. These are needed to contact each executor/ administrator to invite them to sign the statement of truth.
There is a fee payable to the court for any probate application where the assets are valued at more than £10,000.
There is also a fee to enter a caveat.
If applying online you can use a debit/ credit card to make your payment.
If using the paper forms, you can pay using cheque for the full amount, made payable to the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunal Service (NICTS). Or, you can give the Probate Office your phone number to allow them to contact you to take a card payment over the phone.
The application fee to be paid is based on the net value of the estate. You can find the latest court fees at the following link:
f you cannot afford to pay a court fee
If you are on a low income, or if you are on certain benefits, you may not have to pay a fee, or you may be able to get some money off the fee. This is known as fee exemption or remission.
Further information on how to apply for help with fees is in the Do I have to pay court fees? guidance.
Some aspects of this policy are under review. If you are going to make an application for help with Probate or Patients fees, contact the respective court office for further advice.
Help and advice
You can contact the NICTS Probate Office for administrative advice.
If you need advice of a legal nature, this should be sought from a qualified legal practitioner, as NICTS probate staff cannot give you this.
If you need a solicitor, you should contact the Law Society of Northern Ireland.