When a loved-one dies, probate must be granted before an estate can be settled. This easy guide explains everything to do with wills and probate in the UK.
Wills and Probate UK: A 5-step Wills and Probate Guide
What is a will and what does probate mean?
A last will and testament is a document written and signed by a person, outlining their wishes after death. For a will to be valid, it needs to be:
- written when the person is of sound mind
- signed with two adult witnesses present
- signed by those two witnesses
- the witnesses may not be beneficiaries of the will
After death, the estate of the deceased can only be divided amongst the beneficiaries once the executor of a will has received grant of probate.
Probate is the process of:
- appointing an executor of a will or administrator
- assessing the value of an estate
- paying any inheritance tax due
- confirming the validity of the will
- distributing the assets according to the will
In cases where there is no will, assets will be distributed according to Intestacy laws.
Who Can Apply for Probate?
If the deceased has specified an executor of a will, that executor can apply for probate. This person will be responsible for managing the estate and dividing the assets according to the will.
Sometimes the specified executor is unable or unwilling to deal with the will. In this case, they can appoint a solicitor to manage the wills and probate process. When making a will, it is advisable to inform your chosen executor and give them a chance to decline if they don’t feel up to the responsibility. This gives you a chance to appoint someone who would be willing to take on the role.
If there is no will, an administrator will need to be appointed to deal with the estate. An administrator can be a member of the deceased’s family, such as a:
- spouse (even if separated)
- civil partner
The administrator will first need to apply for Letters of Administration to validate their right to deal with the estate. Once their role has been approved, they can then apply for grant of probate. The estate will then be divided up according to Intestacy Law.
When Do You Apply for Probate?
Probate must be applied for before the executor or administrator can settle the estate.
An estate requires grant of probate if:
- the estate includes property in the deceased’s name
- the estate includes investments, businesses or assets worth more than £5000
In England and Wales, there is no time limit on applying for grant of probate. However, Inheritance Tax needs to be settled by the executor within 6 months of death.
How Do You Apply for Grant of Probate?
The process of applying for grant of probate is in place to protect the next of kin. It ensures that the deceased’s wishes are carried out in a legal and fair way. It also ensures that the state receives the Inheritance Tax due to it. The basic steps to follow are listed below.
Before applying for grant of probate:
The executor will first need to:
- identify all assets and liabilities to determine the value of the estate
- prove the will to be valid in probate court
- identify the beneficiaries and executor of a will
- apply for letters of administration, if there is no will
- pay any applicable inheritance tax
Depending on the value of the estate, there may be Inheritance Tax to pay. The executor of a will may be required to pay a portion of this tax upfront. Keep in mind that once the estate is settled, the executor can claim this tax back from the estate or the beneficiaries. The executor should receive a notice from HM Revenue and Customs stating that the Inheritance Tax has been paid (or that there is no tax due). After receiving this notice, the executor can proceed to the next step: application for probate.
The application documentation:
The paperwork necessary for the probate application includes:
- the applicable probate forms
- a death certificate or interim death certificate from the coroner
- a report of the estate’s value
- the original will (if there is one)
- letter of administration (if there is no will)
The application process:
The executor needs to fill in the probate application forms and send them to the local Probate Registry. The application can be made online, or sent by post. Keep in mind that postal applications are delayed due to the current Covid pandemic.
Once the application has been processed:
- the executor will be called to the Probate Registry to attend an interview
- the executor will have to verify the information contained in the paperwork
- they will need to swear an oath
- after about ten days, provided there are no outstanding issues, probate should be granted
If you are struggling with the application, or there is something you don’t understand about wills and probate, you could appoint a solicitor to manage the process. Alternatively, the Courts and Tribunals Service Center can be contacted for online probate advice.
What Happens After You Apply for Probate?
Once the grant of probate has been issued, the executor will receive a letter stating how much Inheritance Tax is due. This tax must be paid. Following this, the executor can begin liquidating the deceased’s assets, settling any outstanding debts, and paying final estate administration expenses. Once this process is complete, the final assets and funds can be distributed to the beneficiaries named in the final will and testament.
How Are Wills and Probate in the UK Recorded?
About two weeks after probate has been granted, a record of it and the contents of the will should reflect online. To check for probate online, you can go to: https://www.gov.uk/search-will-probate
This online record holds a copy of all wills and probate granted in England and Wales, since 1996.
You can use this portal to:
- check the status of probate application
- check for probate type
- order a copy of a probate record
- order a copy of a will (if there is one)
If the record is listed as:
- “Admon” or “Grant”: it means the listing does not contain a will
- “Admon with Will”, “Grant with Will” or “Probate”: it means the listing includes a will
If you prefer to do a probate search by post, you can fill in a PA1S form and send it to the address on the form. Keep in mind that application by post is charged at £1.50 and includes a copy of the probate record and will (if there is one). It should arrive by mail within 4 weeks.
If you are doing a historic probate search in the UK, you will need to check for probate at:
- the National Archive for England and Wales (for records before 1958)
- the Index to wills and administration for England and Wales (from 1958 – 1995)
- Scotland’s People (for records before 1925)
- The National Records of Scotland (for records after 1925)
For any further advice on wills and probate, you can speak to us (insert hyperlink) at Fenix Funeral Directors. We would be happy to guide you through how to apply for probate, how find a will, and how to check for probate once your application has been made.
How long does probate take?
If there is a will in place, the full probate process should take between 3 – 6 months. If there is no will in place, the next of kin will need to apply for letters of administration, which may delay the process. If the estate is particularly large and complex, the grant of probate may take up to 12 months.
What is an executor of a will?
The executor is the person chosen by the deceased to carry out the final wishes outlined in their last will and testament. The executor is responsible for settling inheritance tax, applying for grant of probate and dividing the estate. If the executor is unwilling or unable to complete the process, they can appoint a solicitor to carry out the role in their place.
How do you find wills and probate records?
Any will and probate application made in England or Wales since 1996 can be found online at:
If you need help finding wills, probate and grant records online, you can also try at the various archives. At Fenix Funeral Directors, we would gladly assist you to find a will or track a record of probate. Easing this difficult period for you, is our dedicated commitment.