Probate Questions and Answers

What is probate?

Probate or estate administration is the legal process involved in applying to the probate office for a grant of probate that is used to gain access to a deceased’s assets in order to distribute the estate according to the wishes in their Will.

What is a grant of probate/grant of representation?

A grant of probate is a legal document that is provided to you by the probate office once you have successfully completed a probate and inheritance tax application. Institutions that are holding assets under the deceased’s name may ask for a grant in order for them to release the assets to the executors.

A grant of representation, also known as Letters of administration is the equivalent to a grant of probate but is used for when the deceased left no Will.

Do I need probate?

Whether or not you will need a grant of probate is dependent on the type of assets in the estate. A grant is most commonly required for assets of high value in a person’s sole name.

Property held in a sole name will require probate in order for it to change ownership. However a property held in joint names will pass to the surviving owner without the need for probate. It is important to note that property owned as Tenants in common is not the same as joint owners and it will require probate. Tenants in common mean that the person owned a percentage share of the property in their sole name and therefore does not pass through the rules of survivorship.

Banks and buildings societies along with other companies that the deceased held assets with, have their own threshold for what amount they will release without a grant of probate. However these thresholds are reduced when the deceased did not leave a Will. If a deceased left more than £5000 in one place you may be asked for a grant of probate for it to be released, this also applies to life insurance policies and pensions.

How long does it take?

Once the probate office has received your application it can take between 4-12 weeks for a grant to be issued. This is dependent on how busy that particular office is and whether or not there are any mistakes in the application, these factors can vary the amount of time it takes to process the application.

However the full administration of the estate can take much longer as there are many factors to take into consideration, for example, the number of assets in the estate and whether there is inheritance tax to pay. You are also reliant on all the other parties involved to do their bit and come back to you, waiting for responses from certain institutions can delay the process.

Probate can also be slowed down by unexpected complications that are discovered during the administration that will need to be resolved in order to proceed. Estates where there are disputes among beneficiaries and/or executors will take longer to administer as you are dependent on all the parties co-operation. Contested estates can take years to reach an agreement and complete the administration.

How much does it cost?

The cost of applying for a grant can vary dramatically depending on which method you choose to apply. The best way to ensure you are getting a competitive price is to shop around for comparison prices. Solicitors work on different fee structures so when comparing make sure you are taking the different ways of charging into account. Solicitors can use;

  • An hourly rate
  • A percentage of the estate
  • A combination of a percentage and hourly rate
  • A fixed fee

Generally a fixed fee quote is the most competitive form of pricing as you are made of aware of the costs in advance, unlike an hourly rate where the costs will continue to rise throughout the administration with no indication of cost until the end.

You can apply for probate yourself and for a simple estate this can be a cost-effective way of obtaining a grant, as you are doing the man-hours yourself rather than paying someone. However, if the estate is more complex or is subject to inheritance tax it is highly recommended you seek professional help. If are planning to apply for probate yourself, you should make sure you do your research and are confident you are capable, as mistakes are much more commonly made in DIY applications. This can result in additional costs and hours of work to resolve and in some cases you may need a solicitor to step in.