A Guide to Probate

When a person dies, their estate is passed into the possession of beneficiaries, who might be next of kin, or parties named in a will. The legal process involved here has a particular name in common parlance: probate.

What is probate?

Technically speaking, ‘probate’ is the process of proving that the will is valid and enforceable, though it has acquired a more general meaning over the years. All of the steps taken between registering the death and dividing the assets to beneficiaries tend to be called ‘probate’. These assets might include cash, buildings, shares, or personal items.

Who needs probate?

If you’ve been named executor in a will, then it’s your responsibility to help to carry out the wishes of the deceased person. Of course, just because you’ve been named executor doesn’t mean that you’ll be forced to act as one. Estate planning isn’t a shackle! With that said, getting out of it requires a specific legal process, which can be made much less stressful with the intervention of an experienced probate lawyer.

You might not need to follow the probate process at all, strictly speaking. When the estate is very small, or just made up of cash and a few personal items, involving legal professionals might be unnecessary. The same goes if the estate is determined to be insolvent. This means that the deceased person actually had debts, which will need to be honoured before what’s left can be distributed.

What are the costs?

The complexity of the estate will play a big role in the amount you end up paying. If there’s a dispute concerning who is owed what, and the disagreement needs to be resolved via the courts, then you might conceivably face a very large bill. There’s also an application fee to consider, if the estate is worth more than £5,000, and inheritance tax, too.

How does it work?

If you’re going to be working your way through probate yourself, then you’ll need to know the steps along the way – but even if you’re bringing in a probate solicitor, it’s a good idea to know the steps.

First, you’ll need to register the death within five days (or eight if you live in Scotland). This will result in you being given a death certificate – or, several copies of it.

Next, you’ll determine whether a will exists. Do this before arranging the funeral, since it may inform the contents, and cost, of the funeral itself. After that, you’ll go through all of the deceased’s finances, and notify any banks or building societies of the death. You can open an executor’s account so that assets can be transferred.

Next, you’ll get the estate valued, complete your inheritance tax forms, and make your probate application. Once debts are paid off, you’ll then be free to distribute any remaining assets in accordance with the wishes of the deceased.